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.

Jury selection begins for citizen journalist charged with obstruction

Attorneys for a citizen journalist moved cautiously through a Dawson County jury pool Monday, spending hours questioning potential jurors on their political beliefs, personal associations and religious habits.

The trial could last all week for Nydia Tisdale, charged in 2014 after she was removed from a Republican Party event at Burt’s Pumpkin Farm in Dawsonville, where she was videotaping speeches. Tisdale faces three charges, the most serious of which is felony obstruction of an officer. A guilty verdict for that charge carries a maximum of five years in prison.

Tisdale previously rejected a plea deal that would have dropped all charges except for misdemeanor criminal trespassing. Senior Judge Martha Christian asked about the plea deal Monday.

Assistant District Attorney Conley Greer said Tisdale could plead nolo contendre, rather than guilty, to the sole misdemeanor charge if she chose.

“And she rejected that?” Christian asked Harvey.

“Yes, and would you confirm that with Ms. Tisdale, please?” Harvey said.

Tisdale said she had turned down the offer.

Tisdale is known for filming public meetings and posting the mostly raw footage to her YouTube channel, and she said she believed she had permission to attend the rally at Burt’s. But after being asked to stop recording, she was led out and arrested.

In a separate case, Tisdale won a $200,000 settlement in 2015 from the city of Cumming after she was ejected from a public City Council meeting she had been filming in 2012.

Tisdale’s defense team is led by Bruce Harvey, a high-profile and flamboyant Atlanta criminal defense attorney. Harvey has been working on the case for years with Gainesville criminal defense attorney Jeffery Talley. For the trial, Tisdale added Catherine Bernard, a libertarian-leaning Atlanta lawyer whose practice is geared toward defending victims of “government overreach.”

“Looking forward to some truth and justice,” Bernard said when she arrived at the courthouse Monday.

Inside the courtroom, potential jurors were asked whether they had been to Burt’s Pumpkin Farm — a popular tourist attraction — and most had. One man who said he had never heard of the farm had to explain he only moved to the area recently.

Many of the potential jurors also knew Capt. Tony Wooten, the former Dawson sheriff’s deputy who arrested Tisdale. Others in the tightknit community also knew the Burt family or other possible witnesses in the saga, including some former high school classmates. But jurors typically said they could put those past associations behind them and listen to the evidence.

The trial will continue Tuesday.

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