PAULDING COUNTY, Ga. - A superior court judge who has been the subject of two Channel 2 Action News investigations is now on leave and will not return to the bench.
Paulding County Judge James Osborne had initially planned to retire at the end of this year, after an election related investigation in March. Now he's instead filed notice making his retirement effective Oct. 1, amid a new Judicial Qualifications Commission investigation.
The Paulding County court administrator confirmed Osborne will be on leave until that retirement takes effect.
Channel 2 Action News had also launched a new investigation into Osborne several weeks ago; requesting Paulding County court records involving defendants whose cases he handled who also posted their jail bonds with a company called Freedom Bail Bonds.
The company is owned by Dwayne Cochran, whose wife Pam has spent 21 years as Osborne's secretary.
"This actually reeks of impropriety," said Georgia State University law professor Jess Gabel, "It's bad because, especially when it's somebody in a judicial position, we want them to be as unbiased as possible."
Gabel said even appearance can be a big problem. Jail records show Freedom Bail Bonds has bonded out hundreds of defendants in Paulding County.
"You could imagine a scenario where her company says well hey we know the judge and that's more of a reason for a defendant's family to go ahead and use that company," said Gabel.
Gabel said the bonding company could have financially benefited, or even worse prosecutors may wonder whether defendants benefited. The judge controls their sentence, and whether bond is forfeited if they fail to appear.
"Certainly a judge should never use their office to create any sort of advantage for anyone, said Gabel, "It would be really hard for the judge to say, I didn't know that my secretary or her husband owned this company."
Especially since state records show Judge Osborne's own wife, Carol Osborne, who is an attorney, signed the incorporation documents for Freedom Bail Bonds when the company first formed.
"It typically means at least you're their lawyer in the formation process and it also probably means that they paid you something to help with that process," said Gabel.
Gabel says it would also be difficult for Osborne's secretary to claim she wasn't affiliated with the company in her husband's name, since Channel 2 uncovered several bonding company checks with Pam Cochran's signature on them.
"The signature matters, absolutely, because it means that person has some authority within the company to go ahead and sign for it," Gabel said.
Gabel said that this may be something for prosecutors to examine, to see if the judge was using his office improperly, and if all of those defendants' cases were handled fairly.
The district attorney told investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer he is aware of the situation but did not want to comment.
Judge Osborne, his secretary Pam Cochran, and her husband Dwayne Cochran did not return calls requesting comment.