The state Open Records Act was designed to make our elected officials more transparent and accountable. That’s what Mark Thomason, publisher of the Blue Ridge, Ga.-based Fannnin Focus, was attempting to do when he filed a records request related to the activities of Judge Brenda Weaver. Specifically, he requested copies of checks that had been cashed by a government agency.
Weaver’s response to that request was to have Thomason and his attorney arrested for identity fraud. Her rationale was that Thomason could use the information on the checks to commit the crime.
The response by the judge is absolutely astounding and is nothing more than a blatant attempt to silence a publication that has been critical of her conduct. Weaver knows as well as anyone that the Open Records Act clearly allows for redaction of such personal information. Her retaliatory actions against this publisher are an abuse of her power and something that should prompt further investigation by Thomason and other publications.
The Georgia professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is asking for an inquiry by the Judicial Qualifications Commission into Weaver’s conduct. Because Weaver is chair of that commission, she must immediately recuse herself from that inquiry. We are also asking the Attorney General’s Office to pursue an Open Records Act complaint against Judge Weaver.
We feel strongly that judges are elected to uphold the law, not use it settle personal scores with people they don’t like. The personal feelings of a target of an open records request toward the person filing that request are completely irrelevant as far as the law is concerned.
We are shocked that any journalist would be jailed for simply asking a question. We live in the United States of America where we are blessed to have the protections of the First Amendment. While we are certain Judge Weaver is an elected official in the United States, we are unsure if she is aware of it. Her reaction is more in line with that of a petty dictator, not a judge obligated to uphold the laws of this state and this nation.
We cannot find enough words to condemn this outrageous conduct by an elected official toward someone exercising his rights under the Open Records Act. We urge a swift, forceful response so there is no doubt where our rights begin and a judge’s authority ends.
About SPJ: Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.