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Fannin Focus Publisher Mark Thomason, who was arrested June 24 on charges of identity fraud, attempted identity fraud and making false statements. Thomason was trying to get access to Judge Brenda Weaver's operating account.
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Judge Brenda Weaver
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Fannin Focus Publisher Mark Thomason, who was arrested June 24 on charges of identity fraud, attempted identity fraud and making false statements. Thomason was trying to get access to Judge Brenda Weaver's operating account.
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Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney Alison Sosebee dropped charges against Mark Thomason and his lawyer, Russell Stookey, on Thursday. Sosebee sought grand jury indictments last month against the two at the request of Judge Brenda Weaver, for whom Sosebee served as a clerk in 2001 after law school.

A North Georgia judge is no longer a member of the agency that is investigating her.

Brenda Weaver resigned as chairwoman of the Judicial Qualifications Commission on Friday afternoon. Weaver, a superior court judge in the Appalachian Judicial Circuit, has been the subject of criticism from First Amendment organizations after she orchestrated the arrest of a newspaper publisher for the manner in which he investigated her finances.

"I sincerely appreciate the opportunity I was given to serve as a member and as the chairperson of this commission," she wrote in an email to the other members of the JQC, the organization tasked with investigating Georgia's judges. "The work of this commission is extremely important and nothing and no one should distract from its duties and responsibilities."

Mark Thomason, the publisher of the Fannin Focus, filed a complaint with the organization against Weaver after his June 24 arrest. A grand jury indicted Thomason and his attorney, Russell Stookey, on charges of identity fraud and attempted identity fraud after they issued a subpoena for Weaver's taxpayer-funded bank account records as part of a civil case.

Weaver, who was not a party in the case, believed Thomason and Stookey needed to give her warning before issuing the subpoena. (Stookey says he did give the judge notice.) The grand jury also indicted Thomason on a charge of making a false statement after he filed a records request for checks from the Pickens County general fund to Weaver's operating account, adding in the request that he believed money for that account had been illegally cashed.

On Friday, Thomason said he was not satisfied with Weaver's resignation from the commission. He believes she should be punished further. The JQC case against her is still pending, as is an FBI investigation into how Thomason was arrested.

"Judge Weaver should also immediately announce resignation from the bench so that another innocent person won't have to suffer from her influence over the district attorney or other constituent judges in this circuit," Thomason said.

Added Stookey: "She needs to step down as a judge and turn in her law license, because she is a disgrace."

The June arrest and its ramifications brought national attention to the tight-knit Fannin County community.

Alison Sosebee, the local district attorney, used to serve as Weaver's clerk. After that, she was a partner for the law firm of Weaver's husband, George Weaver.

Thomason, meanwhile, relies on information from some sources who do not get along with the Weavers.

The roots of Thomason and Stookey's arrests date back to March 2015, when Superior Court Judge Roger Bradley used a racial slur during a court hearing. Thomason said several sources in the courtroom told him that sheriff's deputies also used the slur in court that day, though that is not reflected in the transcript written by Rhonda Stubblefield.

Thomason sued Stubblefield, demanding an audio recording of the hearing. Stubblefield, in turn, sued Thomason, claiming he defamed her character. A judge denied Thomason's demands, and Stubblefield dropped her own charges against the newspaper.

Bradley, the judge who used the racial slur, wrote a $15,700 check to Stubblefield in December to cover some of her attorney's fees, even though she is not a county employee. Bradley then retired in January.

Upon hearing about this, Thomason said he wanted to find proof of the actual check. As part of the civil case with Stubblefield, he issued a subpoena for Weaver's operating account. The arrest soon followed.

Emails obtained through an open records request show that Weaver tried to dictate how the district attorney's office handled the case. She asked her law clerk to research potential Georgia codes that Thomason violated. She also told Sosebee who she should put on the stand and what questions she should ask.

Weaver's resignation from the Judicial Qualifications Commission on Friday makes a shaky agency even more unsteady. Commission Director Mark Dehler already announced he will step down Aug. 16, though he has not explained why. The agency also does not have an investigator on staff anymore.

"Judge Brenda Weaver is a true public servant who has given many years of service to the people of our state," JQC Commissioner Richard Hyde said in a statement. "She has shown outstanding leadership by putting the interest of the public above her own."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.

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Weaver emails

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