SPJ: Dropping of charges against newspaper publisher is overdue

SPJlogo-croppedThe Georgia professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is thrilled that a prosecutor has dropped three felony charges against a newspaper publisher who sought public records. It’s about time.

Those charges should never have been filed. While we are thankful Mark Thomason, publisher of the Blue Ridge, Ga.-based Fannin Focus, no longer has the threat of felonies hanging over his head, this issue is not settled. The people responsible for his arrest on these trumped up charges must be held accountable.

The only reason the charges were filed at all is because a powerful person, Chief Superior Court Judge of the Appalachian Judicial Circuit Brenda Weaver, objected to Thomason’s alleged questioning of her honesty. The District Attorney withdrew the charges at Weaver’s request, according to the Daily Report.

We have to wonder why a Judge and a District Attorney would go through the trouble of seeking felony indictments against someone and then quickly reverse course when confronted by a public outcry over their actions.

Weaver had a self-serving explanation for her decision to back off of Thomason.

In a letter accompanying the motion to dismiss, Weaver wrote that she had her epiphany about the First Amendment after speaking to people “for whom I have great respect and admiration,” according to the Daily Report.

It’s troubling to us that a judge has to consult with others to determine the meaning of the First Amendment.

In her accompanying letter, she added, “I must expect not only false reporting in newspaper articles and television (which I have always understood), but I should ignore even blatant false allegations made in written emails to county commissioners because to protect the integrity of our system of government, our citizens should never be discouraged in any way from reporting perceived wrongs committed by public officials to other branches of government.”

Judge Weaver, your credibility went out the window the minute you had a journalist thrown in jail for criticizing you. The media isn’t to blame for your troubles. You are. It is disturbing that you are unable to comprehend this very basic fact. If you were as honest as you claim, you would admit your fault in this matter and issue Thomason a sincere apology.

Unfortunately, Judge Weaver simply doesn’t appreciate the wrongness of her actions. That’s why SPJ Georgia is continuing to pursue its complaint against Judge Weaver filed with the Judicial Qualifications Commission. Because Weaver is chair of the commission, SPJ Georgia has requested she recuse herself from all matters involving our complaint.

We are also encouraging the state Attorney General’s Office to continue its investigation of this issue. We hope the JQC and the Attorney General’s Office will take appropriate actions against Judge Weaver.

The dismissal of this complaint changes nothing about what happened. SPJ Georgia will continue to pressure the appropriate public agencies to ensure this never happens again.

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