Charges against Blue Ridge journalist dropped after arrest for open records request


Thomason said he is relieved that Sosebee has dropped the charges.

"It looks like, at least for now, I'm free," he said.

He said he received a tip Wednesday night that the charges might be dismissed. That information was confirmed this morning, when a reporter called him seeking comment. Upon hearing the content of Weaver's letter to Sosebee, Thomason said he is still concerned with the judge's logic.

"She's still saying I'm a liar," he said.

Weaver criticized Thomason for posting the indictment online last week, showing the bank account and routing numbers publicly available. But Thomason said he was merely releasing a public record, which he received from county officials.

Besides, Thomason said, the content of that account should not be private.

"The checks that fund that account are written from the county taxpayer general fund," he said.

Thomason added that he will continue to try to find out how the cash flows in and out of the judge's bank account.


The publisher of a north Georgia newspaper is no longer facing criminal charges for filing an open records request.

Alison Sosebee, the district attorney for the Appalachian Judicial Circuit, filed a motion this morning to not prosecute Fannin Focus Publisher Mark Thomason in Pickens County Superior Court. Thomason and his lawyer, Russell Stookey, faced charges of identity fraud, attempted identity fraud and making false statements.

Sosebee also said in her motion this morning that she will not prosecute Stookey. She said she is doing so because the supposed victim, Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver, asked her to drop the charges.

"The State has determined that in the interest of justice a nolle prosequi should be entered in this case," Sosebee wrote in her motion.

On June 13, Thomason and Stookey issued subpoenas to inspect bank accounts belonging to Weaver and former Superior Court Judge Roger Bradley, who retired earlier this year amid a scandal in which Bradley told a story from the bench about a man he used to know in town named N-word Bob. Thomason said these bank accounts were for public funds.

He and Stookey wanted to look at the accounts because he believed they would contain proof that Weaver used taxpayer money to fund a private lawsuit against the newspaper. The plaintiff in the civil case, court reporter Rhonda Stubblefield, sued the Fannin Focus for defamation after Thomason wrote that some people in the courtroom said Stubblefield's transcript was not accurate.

The transcript concerned the hearing last year in which Bradley used the racial slur. Some people in the courtroom told Thomason that other people, including members of the Fannin County Sheriff's Office, also said the N-word that day. But the transcript did not contain that version of events.

Stubblefield eventually dropped her lawsuit against the newspaper. But her attorney made a motion, asking the court for attorney's fees. Based on some internal emails he had received, as well as something he heard from Stubblefield's attorney, Thomason said he believed Weaver had paid for Stubblefield's legal representation.

In addition to the subpoenas for the bank account information, which he believed would show public money spent on a private lawsuit, Thomason filed an open records request with the Pickens County Commission on June 13, asking for copies of the cleared checks the county wrote to Weaver and Bradley. In the request, Thomason wrote that he believed the checks had been "cashed illegally."

On June 24, at the request of Weaver, Sosebee presented a case against Thomason and Stookey to a Pickens County Grand Jury. The grand jury indicted them on two counts of identity fraud for the subpoenas they issued, alleging the men were trying to steal money from Weaver.

The grand jury also indicted Thomason on a count of making a false statement for the open records request he filed, saying he accused the judge of cashing checks illegally when he knew that not to be true.

On Wednesday, Weaver wrote a letter to Sosebee, asking her to drop the charges against Thomason and Stookey.

"You have many other cases with victims who have been harmed much more," Weaver wrote, "and they need your full attention and time."

Weaver said that the alleged identity fraud issues are being handled as she is in the process of creating a new bank account. Concerning the allegations that Thomason made false statements, she said in her letter she still believes the newspaper lied about her. But, she added, she believes she should remain above the fray.

"As a public official, 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."

Before running for district attorney in 2012, Sosebee served as a clerk for Weaver. She later worked for the law firm of the judge's husband, George Weaver.

Thomason's and Stookey's arrest sparked national headlines, as some media experts accused the judge and district attorney of arresting a journalist for investigating people in power.

The Society of Professional Journalists' Georgia chapter released a statement last week: "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."