Society of Professional Journalists Georgia condemns outrageous response to Open Records Request

 

SPJlogo-croppedThe 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.

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There are 4 comments

  1. justadawg

    As someone who does business in the area ruled by Judge Weaver, I am absolutely chilled by her actions. I previously considered this North Georgia community a breath of fresh air vs. the cesspool that is my home base in DeKalb County. Now, I not only am afraid of a judge who stifles the First Amendment, I’m terrified of the law enforcement entity who acts as the hammer. It would sadden me to think that Sheriff Donnie Craig of Pickens County, who I hold in great esteem, would not stand up to a judge who suppresses our Constitutional rights. SPJ, I implore you to see this through. Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens must be held accountable to conduct a full-disclosure investigation and act accordingly.

  2. S. Elrod

    Your report is inaccurate from the outset and you should get facts. But as usual, journalist go for the headline, not necessarily the truth. Mr. Thomason was not arrested for making an opens records request.

    1. spjgeorgia

      Our story is accurate and based on the AJC’s accurate reporting. He was arrested for “making a false statement” in his records request and for the records he was requesting.

  3. Ralph Garner

    From what I could see to read of a report on the Fannin Focus’ Facebook page this afternoon (8/31/16), Judge Brenda Weaver was involved in 2004 in another matter before the Judicial Qualifications Commission that had to do with her questionable accounting of funds. I’ll have my copy tomorrow to read the article in full.
    In any event, Weaver’s orchestrated false arrest on trumped-up charges of the Focus publisher and his attorney would have been given a pass had it not been for the rapid expression of outrage by the Society of Professional Journalists/GA and the remarkable early grasp and report of the matter by Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Rhonda Cook. Citizens for decent governance and jurisprudence in the counties of Pickens, Gilmer, and Fannin cannot possibly salute your efforts adequately.

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