Chuck Williams

Chuck Williams: Hyde visit sign of legal trouble?

When Richard Hyde enters a Georgia courthouse, it’s usually news.

He’s an investigator who works for the Judicial Qualifications Commission, which has oversight of the state’s 1,800 judges.

The seven-member JQC investigates complaints against judges. And Hyde, who works as an investigator for former attorney general and JQC prosecutor Mike Bowers, is the one charged with that work.

Over the last two years, Hyde has investigated a couple of dozen Georgia judges from the mountains to the Florida line.

There have been more than 20 resignations linked to Hyde’s work. And the Fulton Daily Report, which covers the state’s legal system, named Hyde its 2010 Newsmaker of the Year, an honor that usually goes to an attorney.

Hyde is no stranger to the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit.

Former Superior Court Judge Robert Johnston, who died earlier this month, resigned a year ago after meeting with Hyde in the government center parking deck.

We would not know about that lunch-time meeting held in Johnston’s car had the judge not confirmed it.

That’s how the JQC and Hyde operate.

JQC complaints and investigations are not public until the commission brings charges against a judge. So, many of the judges who have resigned under pressure, including Johnston, are never forced to admit to ever being under JQC investigation.

Which brings us back to Hyde.

He was in Columbus on March 11 and made no attempt to hide his presence. He spent some time in the Superior Court clerk’s office. The Daily Report reported Hyde was here Dec. 7, the same day he coaxed resignations from two South Georgia judges.

Is he investigating a Columbus judge?

No one is saying.

District attorney Julia Slater was asked if she has been working with the JQC. She declined to comment, but then added that would be her stock answer anytime the question was about the JQC because of the commission’s rules.

Muscogee County Superior Court Chief Judge John Allen, the JQC chairman and one of two sitting judges on the panel, isn’t talking, either. But he can’t and in theory would not know that a judge in his circuit was under JQC scrutiny because commission rules call for a judge on the panel to be excluded if a colleague in the same circuit is under investigation.

Hyde is not saying. His job requires him to keep his mouth shut.

One theory is Hyde could have been here getting Allen to sign some papers.

That is a hard one to buy. If that were the case, why would he be snooping around the clerk’s office?

Another theory is Hyde is working a case in this circuit.

The guess here is we will find out sooner rather than later.