Nydia Tisdale, left, consults with one of her attorneys, Bruce Harvey, at a hearing in Dawsonville in October 2016. Jury selection began Monday in her trial involving her arrest at a Republican Party function she tried to videotape.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Governor, top Republicans subpoenaed in trial of citizen-journalist

An investigator with the defense team for Nydia Tisdale said Tuesday that Gov. Nathan Deal, former Attorney General Sam Olens and several other state and federal officials have been served subpoenas and may be called as witnesses. 

A jury was seated late Tuesday and opening arguments in the case were to get underway Wednesday in Dawson County.

Olens, now president at Kennesaw State University, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he would honor the subpoena, while Deal spokeswoman Jen Ryan said the governor’s office received the subpoena Monday and forwarded it to the Attorney General’s office “as it does with all correspondence relating to legal proceedings.”

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Tisdale was videotaping a GOP rally in 2014 when she was approached by Dawson County Sheriff’s Capt. Tony Wooten and asked to leave. When she did not immediately stop filming, Wooten grabbed Tisdale by the arms and escorted her out and arrested her for felony obstruction of an officer and two misdemeanors.

Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The rally was at Burt’s Pumpkin Farm, a local tourist attraction, and was attended by Deal, then-Senate candidate David Perdue and most of the rest of the state’s top Republicans. According to private investigator Robin Martinelli, along with Deal and Olens, subpoenas have been served on the following officials:

• Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens

• Labor Commissioner Mark Butler

• State School Superintendent Richard Woods

• Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black

Martinelli said the defense team plans to serve Perdue and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, both of whom are in Washington.

Woods and Black both acknowledged they have received the subpoena and will comply with it. Through a spokesman, Hudgens said he had not officially been served but has agreed to testify. 

After two days of jury selection, nine men and five women were seated late Tuesday to hear the case. Two of the 14 are alternates. 

Senior Judge Martha Christian was prepared to hold opening arguments, but attorneys for both sides asked to start fresh Wednesday. 

"I'm old; I'm tired," said lead defense attorney Bruce Harvey. 

Assistant District Attorney Conley Greer added, "He's extraordinarily long-winded, your honor."

The trial is expected to last throughout the week, if not longer. If convicted, Tisdale faces up to five years in prison. Assistant District Attorney Conley Greer said Tisdale was offered a deal to plead to misdemeanor criminal trespass but she turned it down, opting instead to take the case to trial.

October 19, 2016 - Atlanta - Sam Olens, now the president of Kennesaw State University, said he will comply with a subpoeana from the Tisdale legal team
Photo: Bob Andres/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

For years, Tisdale has videotaped public meetings and uploaded them to YouTube and her personal website, usually without editing or commentary. In 2012, Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt had her removed from a local, intergovernmental meeting, prompting a federal lawsuit. Tisdale sued in federal court, winning a $200,000 judgment against the city.

In 2015, The Georgia First Amendment Foundation honored Tisdale with its Open Government Hero award.

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