A northwest Georgia judge recently resigned as Chair of the State’s judicial watchdog group, after she inappropriately pressed charges against a journalist investigating her office’s use of funds.
Judge Brenda Weaver accused reporter Mark Thomason and his attorney Russell Stookey of identity theft and attempt to commit identity theft, after Thomason filed open records requests to ascertain financial records for her office and that of another judge, who has since resigned. This request stemmed from payments to a court reporter for her legal fees, after a separate legal battle between Thomason and the court reporter over the accuracy of a court transcription and attempts to get the original audio recording.
The FBI is currently investigating the court’s financial records.
Weaver was found to have coached the District Attorney about how to prosecute the case against Thomason, which has since been dropped.
“For the DA to take this without much of an investigation and turn it into a criminal indictment is really disturbing,” said Bob Rubin, president of the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “It certainly gives the appearance that the DA was doing the judge’s bidding.”
Weaver’s resignation email to the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC), the watchdog group that oversees complaints against judges, gave no mention of her entanglements with Thomason.
“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.
Weaver now faces a complaint of her own with the JQC, filed by the Society of Professional Journalists.
While Weaver’s behavior has been questionable to say the least, the JQC could soon be in an even worse position.
This November, there will be a measure to strip the JQC of its independence on the ballots. Currently, the Supreme Court, the State Bar, and the Governor appoint the seven member panel.
In a politically-motivated move, the Legislature proposed a constitutional amendment that will require all members to be approved by the State Senate. The State Bar has been stripped of its appointments, while the Lt. Governor and Speaker of the House will gain control over four members, the Supreme Court will still be allowed two appointments, and the Governor given just one.
This change started because several legislators are former judges themselves or have judge friends, and were unhappy with decisions the JQC was making.
Weaver’s actions raise questions, and it’s appropriate that she will be investigated for having a journalist thrown in jail on trumped up charges. But as concerning as it is she served as chair of the JQC while this drama unfolded, it will be even more concerning if the body in charge of judicial ethics is stacked with political appointees.