Judge in open records dispute resigns from watchdog agency

AP News
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Posted: Aug 12, 2016 5:17 PM

ATLANTA (AP) — A northwest Georgia judge who was criticized for her involvement in the indictment and arrest of a journalist and his attorney has resigned as a member and chair of the state agency that investigates allegations of wrongdoing by judges.

Appalachian Judicial Circuit Chief Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver on Friday sent an email to the other members of the Judicial Qualifications Commission notifying them of her resignation.

"The work of this commission is extremely important and nothing and no one should distract from its duties and responsibilities," Weaver said in an email first reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and obtained by The Associated Press.

She did not specifically mention the controversy involving the arrest of Fannin Focus publisher Mark Thomason and attorney Russell Stookey.

The two were 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 were dropped last month.

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.

Weaver has 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.

Circuit District Attorney Alison Sosebee brought the charges at Weaver's request after Weaver 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. Weaver was named as the victim in the indictment.

Sosebee said in a court filing last month that she was seeking to withdraw the charges at Weaver's request.

The Journal-Constitution has reported that the Society of Professional Journalists had filed a complaint against Weaver with the Judicial Qualifications Commission.

The newspaper has also reported that the FBI has been gathering court financial records related to this case.