7/12/16 Fannin Focus

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It’s a chilling First Amendment attack when government uses official resources to silence a media outlet.

Here’s what’s happening behind the headlines.

Mark Thomason publishes the Fannin Focus.  It’s a weekly newspaper covering community events in northern Georgia.  Days before the 4th of July, Thomason and his attorney, Russell Stookey, were arrested and jailed.  The pair had been indicted for attempted identity fraud and other charges.

According to Thomason, the pair were only guilty of conducting journalism that angered a local judge.

Thomason was investigating allegations of financial improprieties and questionable behavior involving the local court.  The newspaperman filed an open records request for records from a county government bank account.   This account was used by Chief Judge Brenda Weaver and another judge to pay office expenses.

Weaver requested District Attorney Alison Sosebee indict the pair on identity theft charges.  Weaver suggested the open records request was a ruse to steal banking information.

Thomason had to agree to limit his newsgathering activities related to the case as a condition of posting bond.

Last week, charges were dropped.  But the damage has been done.  What journalist would dare investigate these officials?  They could be arrested, carted off to jail, undergo drug testing, and be required to post an expensive bond in order to be released.

There should be a state investigation of the judge and district attorney.

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