Jailed Georgia journalists receives standing ovation at Society of Professional Journalists’ national convention; commendation for the journalist’s effort for relentless pursuit of the public’s right to know
NEW ORLEANS – Mark Thomason, publisher of the Fannin Focus newspaper in Bridge Ridge, Georgia, received a standing ovation from journalists who attended the Society of Professional Journalists’ Excellence in Journalism national convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, on Tuesday, Sept. 20. A resolution was also presented by the SPJ national body to commend Thomason’s “relentless pursuit of the public’s right to know” in a freedom of information battle involving the actions of chief superior court judge.
The SPJ resolution states that Thomason’s “arrest was clearly retaliatory and in reaction to articles he had published about Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver.” In addition, the resolution also calls for Judge Weaver to resign and has filed an official complaint against her with the state Judicial Qualifications Commission. Weaver resigned from the Georgia’s Judicial Qualifications Commission for which she was chair on August 12.
At SPJ’s closing business meeting Thomason explained that he was arrested June 24 and was charged with three felonies, including one for making a false statement on his open records request. He said the day of his arrest local law enforcement shut down a city block to arrest him and his attorney, Russel Stookey. Thomason said he had no idea why he was arrested.
“For two days I sat in a jail cell without a pillow or blanket,” he said.
Thomson said after his release on a $10,000 bond he faced unusual bond restrictions and told the SPJ participants that he was required to provide numerous on-the-spot urine samples for law enforcement in his hometown.
SPJ also commended the SPJ Georgia Pro Chapter for providing public statements for Thomason’s charges to be dropped. After an uproar by SPJ, professional news organizations and the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, Thomason and Stookey’s charges were dropped on July 18. His arrest made national headlines.