Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Time for Judge Brenda Weaver to leave the bench

Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver of the Appalachian Judicial Circuit ought to resign, having demonstrated an astonishing lack of respect for the authority vested in that office and for the basic civil liberties that the judiciary was created to protect.

Weaver has instead abused that authority in a misguided attempt to protect herself from the scrutiny that every public official must accept as part of accepting a public paycheck and exercising public powers. It is inconceivable, given the willful nature of her actions, that she be allowed to remain in office.

If Weaver refuses to step down on her own, the state Judicial Qualifications Commission ought to begin the process of removing her through the means laid out in the law. And yes, the inconvenient fact that Weaver chairs the state Judicial Qualifications Commission does make the process a little more complicated.

However, it doesn’t alter what should happen. To the contrary, it compounds the importance of Weaver’s swift departure from office. If Weaver lacks the self-reflection needed to understand the gravity of her mistake — and so far that seems to be the case — then others have a responsibility to step in.

You probably know the story by now, but let’s recap briefly:

The two main parties are Weaver, chief judge of the Appalachian circuit, and Mark Thomason, a local newspaper publisher. In recent months the two had taken up opposing sides in one of those convoluted, overheated tales of poisonous small-town politics, and it all came to a head when Thomason tried to obtain copies of checks written on a public checking account controlled by Weaver.

Thomason claims that his request was investigative journalism; the judge claims it was part of a vendetta against her. In either case, Weaver overreacted badly. She demanded that the local district attorney seek Thomason’s indictment, arrest and jailing on trumped-up, legally absurd felony charges of identity fraud and making false statements.

Appalachian Circuit District Attorney Alison Sosebee — a supposedly independent actor, with supposedly independent judgment — acceded to the judge’s imperious demands, a decision that calls into question her own professional credibility. Thomason was arrested, charged, fingerprinted and jailed, as was his attorney.

It’s important to stress the groundless nature of those charges. Thomason was perfectly within his rights to seek the information in question, and there is zero evidence to sustain the claim that he intended to use the information for criminal purposes. On the other hand, there is substantial evidence that Weaver and Sosebee attempted to use the considerable powers of their offices to punish, intimidate and silence Thomason.

That is not, to put it mildly, a legitimate use of judicial or prosecutorial power. It is telling that once details of the story began to appear in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other media outside Pickens County, Weaver and her cohorts began to shrink further into the shadows, unable and unwilling to defend what they had done. Last week, the charges against Thomason and his attorney, Russell Stookey, were dropped.

That doesn’t end the case, however. Judges are accountable to the law too, even in Pickens County.

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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.