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Journalist hit with felony charges for request of open records

Freedom of the press is a constitutional right granted to journalists, publishers and other individuals involved in the journalism profession. This important right protects these individuals from being unfairly censored while doing their jobs, but a Georgia publisher claims he was retaliated against for exercising that right. He was slapped with felony charges and an overnight stay in jail for allegedly filing a request that he was well within his rights to file.

The publisher has apparently been active in pursuing possible financial inaccuracies in his local superior court. As part of his ongoing investigative journalism, he filed an open-records request that would have given him copies of checks that had been cashed illegally. He and another journalist then sent subpoenas to the banks at where office expenses are maintained for some of the court judges. However, the chief judge, who later stated that she does not have a good reaction when someone questions her honesty, managed to secure indictments for these actions.

According the indictment, the publisher allegedly committed identity fraud because he did not secure the chief judge's explicit approval prior to sending off the subpoenas. Experts on the matter have expressed surprise and even outrage at the charges, which appear to be in direct violation of the Open Records Act. The chief judge disagreed with this sentiment, instead claiming that she believed individuals in the community were using the publisher in order to act out a personal vendetta.

Out on a $10,000 bond, the publisher must still avoid certain activities in order to remain out of jail. He was also told that he would likely have to deal with random drug testing, just one of the conditions of his release. Although a handful of experts believe that his felony charges might not exactly be legal and that there is a fair chance that they will ultimately be dropped, most defendants in this position are still well-advised to prepare for the possibility of trial. Doing so can ensure that Georgia defendants are as prepared as possible no matter the outcome.

Source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "North Georgia publisher jailed after filing open records request", Rhonda Cook, July 1, 2016

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