BLUE RIDGE — A North Georgia newspaper publisher and his attorney who were jailed in an open records dispute won’t be prosecuted.
Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney Alison Sosebee filed a motion Thursday to dismiss charges against Fannin
Focus publisher Mark Thomason and attorney Russell Stookey, according to multiple news outlets.
The pair was indicted June 24 on charges of identity theft and attempt to commit identity theft. The indictment also accused Thomason of making a false statement in an Open Records Act request he had filed.
The charges garnered national attention and drew condemnation from journalism organizations.
The case stems from a legal battle between Thomason and court reporter Rhonda Stubblefield. Thomason was seeking an audio recording of a court proceeding before then-Judge Roger Bradley because he believed the transcript produced by Stubblefield was incomplete.
He tried to use the courts to compel her to release the audio recording and also wrote a story saying the transcript might not be accurate. Stubblefield sued him for libel.
A judge ended up dismissing Thomason’s claim, and Stubblefield dropped her counterclaim. But Stubblefield subsequently filed paperwork asking to be reimbursed for attorney’s fees, even though she had been paid nearly $16,000 from Bradley’s operating account, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Appalachian Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Brenda Weaver said the judges decided to use court money to cover the court reporter’s legal expenses since they stemmed from her work for the court. Weaver, named as a victim in the indictment, asked Sosebee to file the charges against Thomason and Stookey after she learned about subpoenas seeking records for her office’s operating account and for the operating account of Bradley, who is no longer on the bench.
Sosebee said in her motion Thursday that she was withdrawing the charges at Weaver’s request.
According to the Daily Report, Sosebee included a letter from Weaver that said the judge sought advice from people she respects who reminded her that, 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 to other branches of government.”
The Atlanta-Journal Constitution reports that the Society of Professional Journalists on Wednesday filed a complaint against Weaver with the Judicial Qualifications Commission, which is responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct against judges and which Weaver chairs.
The organization has also called on the Georgia attorney general’s office to investigate the filing of criminal charges linked to an open records request.