Charges dropped against North Georgia newspaper publisher, lawyer

Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney Alison Sosebee dropped today the three felony charges brought against the publisher of a local weekly newspaper and his attorney that were brought based on their efforts to see public documents.

Attached to the motion to drop the case is a letter from the judge at the center of the criminal charges brought almost two weeks ago.

Mark Thomason, publisher of the Fannin Focus, and attorney Russell Stookey were indicted, arrested and jailed overnight on June 24 on three felony charges.

Thomason was charged with making a false statement in a request made under the Georgia Open Records Act for copies of checks drawn on the office accounts of two local judges that may have been “cashed illegally.”

Thomason and Stookey were charged with identify fraud and attempted identity fraud because the attorney secured subpoenas for bank records they wanted to present as evidence in a pending court matter over whether the two had to pay the legal fees of a court stenographer who had sued the newspaper man for defamation.

Both were freed bond June 25. Since then Thomason had to submit to three urine tests for alcohol and drugs, which was a condition of his release on bond, once as recent as this morning.

Chief Judge Brenda Weaver — who presides in Fannin, Gilmer and Pickens Counties – had asked Sosebee to pursue criminal charges after she learned of the subpoenas for records from her office’s operating account and from another jurist – now-former Judge Roger Bradley.

She said in a letter attached to the dismissal that she had had second thoughts about pursing a case.

After they were indicted, Weaver said she was concerned Thomason and Stookey would use Information on the accounts to make withdrawals. As for the charge just against Thomason, she told The Atlanta Journal Constitution, “I don’t react well when my honesty is questioned.”

On Wednesday, the Society of Professional Journalists filed a complaint against Weaver with the Judicial Qualifications Commission. Weaver is chair of the JQC.

The society also called on Attorney General Sam Olens to investigate the matter of bringing criminal charges based on an ORA request.

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