Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Publisher jailed after records request gets charges dropped after a little weirdness from another judge

Lawyer Russell Stookey, publisher Mark Thomason
(Atlanta Journal-Constitution photo by Rhonda Cook)
Identity-fraud charges against North Georgia publisher Mark Thomason and attorney Russell Stookey were officially dismissed Monday, Jim Zachary reports for The Daily Citizen in Dalton. Thomason, who runs the weekly Fannin Focus, was jailed last month by Chief Appalachian Circuit Judge Brenda Weaver, who was unhappy about being negatively portrayed in the press and pounced when the publisher filed an open-records request.

"Weaver had pressed charges against Thomason after he had requested spending records of government accounts under her control, creating a media firestorm," Zachary writes. "After the Georgia chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, The Georgia First Amendment Foundation and the Georgia Press Association condemned Weaver’s actions, she requested all charges be dropped," but senior Judge Richard Winegarden insisted Thomason appear in court on Monday.

Despite the prosecutor filing a motion to dismiss charges, Winegarden insisted on reciting all the charges against Thomason and Stookey, Rhonda Cook reports for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He also asked each reporter in attendance who they were and why they were there and commented on news coverage of the case.

"In great detail, the judge recounted day-by-day dental appointments, medical tests, and other hearings he presided over in the period between being assigned to the case on June 29, receiving the prosecutor’s motion to dismiss the indictment and finding a place on his calendar to hold a hearing," Cook writes. "He noted that such motions are required to be heard in 'open court'." Winegarden said, “It’s important to address my reasons for doing what I’ve done.” Stookey said he had wanted the case to go to trial to earn an acquittal and to ensure that the prosecutor couldn't revive the charge.

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