In another chapter in controversies swirling around Clay County Sheriff Jeffrey Lyde, a district judge voluntarily stepped away from the criminal cases against the sheriff Wednesday, court records show.
The development comes a few days after the same judge, 97th District Judge Jack McGaughey, bowed out of presiding over a civil case to remove Lyde from elected office.
McGaughey filed orders voluntarily recusing himself Wednesday from cases involving six official oppression charges against Lyde, court documents show.
McGaughey also asked Senior District Judge David Evans, who presides over the Eighth Administrative Judicial Region, to put another judge on the cases, court documents show.
Sheriff faces civil, criminal charges
The sheriff is accused of sexually harassing three female staff members in 2021 and 2022, as well as assaulting one by slapping her buttocks. In addition, Lyde is suspected of holding a man and a woman in jail without a finding of probable cause in July 2021.
In each of his voluntary recusal orders, McGaughey writes that "there was a ground" for his disqualification or recusal, court documents show.
The judge didn't specify what ground, but he notes a rule that judges shall recuse themselves if their impartiality might reasonably be questioned in certain instances.
They include having a personal bias or personal knowledge of key information, according to the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.
Grounds for disqualification
Grounds for disqualification include if a judge has served as a lawyer in the matter at controversy or knows they have an interest in it, according to the TRCP. In addition, grounds for disqualification are being related by marriage or blood to a certain degree to someone involved.
McGaughey stepped away from the removal case against Lyde after defense attorney Randall D. Moore of Fort Worth filed a motion pushing for his recusal.
Moore alleges the judge is a key witness and was a legal advisor to the sheriff, court documents show.
In addition, the defense attorney sought McGaughey's recusal in the cases involving the man and woman allegedly held in jail without a finding of probable cause, contending the judge was a witness and should be disqualified.
Since McGaughey bowed out of the cases, they are effectively stalled until Evans designates a new judge to sit on the bench for them.
But Lyde and his attorney have not been idle ahead of the district judge's exit from his cases.
Staff members put on leave
Lyde put staff members on leave Jan. 19 who are involved in legal proceedings against him according to a notification letter obtained Thursday by the Times Record News.
The sheriff put three peace officers and one administrative staff member on paid administrative leave to meet his bond conditions and comply with a temporary restraining order McGaughey granted in the removal case, according to the letter.
Lyde is forbidden to have contact with the three women he's accused of sexually harassing and to be around their workplaces.
Attorney said move doesn't violate order
But Lyde's move raises the question of whether he violated the restraining order. Moore says he did not.
The order prohibits Lyde from firing, demoting, altering his staff members' pay, doing anything to impact their law-enforcement credentials or retaliating against them.
McGaughey extended the order through Jan. 31 on the day Lyde was to go before him for a suspension hearing. Moore's motion pushing to remove the judge from the case scuttled that hearing.
Lyde maintains innocence of official oppression charges
Lyde maintains his innocence of the official oppression charges from July 2021 involving the jailed couple. His attorney contends the latest charges are politically motivated.
If convicted of the class A misdemeanor of official oppression, Lyde faces up to a year in jail and a fine up to $4,000.
He was free Friday on $15,000 in bonds after his Jan. 2 arrest on the latest oppression charges, according to court filings and online Clay County Jail records.
The second petition for his removal was submitted by local attorney and former district judge Frank Douthitt, 97th District Attorney Casey Hall and Clay County Attorney Seth Slagle.
Trish Choate, enterprise watchdog reporter for the Times Record News, covers education, courts, breaking news and more. Contact her with news tips at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her Twitter handle is @Trishapedia.
This article originally appeared on Wichita Falls Times Record News: Judge McGaughey steps away from Sheriff Lyde's criminal cases