SPJ Georgia is in receipt of the JQC’s decision regarding its complaint against Judge Brenda Weaver.
We disagree with the decision.
We are curious as to why the JQC decided to lump all of the complaints together as opposed to judging each one based on their own merits. Each complaintant had a different perspective and different motives. By considering these complaints as part of one larger complaint, JQC has attempted to portray this as a campaign based on some personal vendetta against Judge Weaver. We can’t speak to the motives of other complaintants, but no one at SPJ Georgia’s leadership knows Judge Weaver or has any reason to hold a grudge against her. Our concern was and continues to be a judge using her position to attack a journalist who wrote stories that were critical of her. Indeed, Weaver admitted her motives in an interview with the AJC, where she specifically said, “I don’t react well when my honesty is questioned.”
Weaver’s own public statements about this case do not appear to have been considered by the JQC, which is unfortunate.
The JQC’s response appears to be more interested in defending Judge Weaver’s honor than considering facts. Judges are required to be impartial. Using the legal system to retaliate against a reporter for making a records request is an abuse of power and calls her impartiality into question.
While we disagree with this decision, we are grateful the charges against Mark Thomason were eventually dropped, though that wasn’t enough to save his business, the Fannin Focus from going under. The larger issues at play here have gone completely unaddressed by JQC.
We are concerned that an organization charged with policing the conduct of judges has taken offense at people who file complaints against a judge. The JQC appears to have taken this personally, and based on the tone of their letter we have questions about their objectivity in this matter, particularly the part of their letter that puts the term “journalist” and “reporter” in quotation marks. With all due respect, the JQC is not in the position of deciding who is a reporter in who isn’t. That is outside the scope of their authority and that sentence suggests they didn’t take these complaints seriously.
JQC on the one hand says it is supportive of a free and independent press, but then it defends a judge who had a journalist jailed for requesting a public record. In our minds, the two positions are hard to reconcile.
Moving forward, we hope that Judge Weaver thinks more carefully about how she conducts herself in the future. We worry that this decision has left her feeling that her actions were justified. Let there be no doubt that SPJ will continue to fight for journalists who are targeted by public officials for doing their jobs, even when others are willing to give those public officials a pass for their misbehavior.
We stand in support of all journalists who seek to hold our public officials accountable for their actions.