Appalachian Judicial Circuit will resume convening grand juries for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.
Our communities have been hit hard by the global pandemic. As the COVID19 outbreak in Georgia continues, the Appalachian Judicial Circuit is continually working to balance legitimate public health considerations with
the necessity to maintain fair and effective administration of justice for citizens and communities within our circuit.
Since the Monday following the first Judicial Emergency Order, put in place by Chief Justice Melton of the Georgia Supreme Court in March of this year, our circuit has been addressing cases. At first, pursuant to the Supreme Court’s Judicial Emergency Order, our courts were confined to hearing only emergency civil cases and handling non-jury criminal cases involving incarcerated defendants. However, within weeks, our circuit had the ability to conduct full hearings in person, with appropriate health precautions, or virtually using videoconferencing for the safety of all parties. Since that time, hundreds of cases and matters have been addressed within our circuit, which have involved both emergency and non-emergency issues.
All types of cases are being heard and addressed on a daily basis in all of our counties, following the rules and procedures that are set forth in our circuit’s own Judicial Emergency Orders. Deputy Sheriffs are screening persons as they enter the courthouse for temperatures. Hand sanitization stations are positioned throughout the courthouse, and masks are provided to those entering the courtrooms. In all three counties in our circuit, technology has been installed that allows hearings to be conducted virtually between our court system and the Department of Corrections, as well as many of the local jails throughout the State. This technology has allowed many criminal cases to move forward and be concluded even while in-person proceedings have been limited.
As of September 10, 2020, the Supreme Court has authorized the empaneling of grand juries. Gilmer County shall convene on October 19, 2020, Fannin County shall convene on November 9, 2020, and Pickens County shall convene on November 16, 2020. To keep everyone safe, the following safety practices will be implemented, based upon guidelines from the Georgia Department of Health and “Guidance for Resuming In-Person Grand Jury Proceedings,” developed by the state Judicial COVID-19 Task Force, and approved by the Judicial Council. Our courts will work diligently to keep all individuals who enter our courthouses and courtrooms safe for the public and all court personnel.
• Strict social distancing guidelines will be required (6 feet or greater).
• Large rooms will be used for all proceedings.
• Temperature checks at the door of the courthouse will be performed, with those registering 100.4 or higher being excluded from entering the courthouse.
• All individuals who enter courtrooms, grand jury rooms or jury assembly rooms must wear masks, and witnesses must wear face shields when testifying before grand jurors or before trial jurors in jury trials.
• Arrival times for witnesses and groups of potential jurors will be staggered to prevent large numbers of people entering or gathering at once in the courthouse.
• Technology will be used whenever possible to minimize contact between persons.
• Use of hand sanitizer is strictly enforced and will be provided when entering courthouse and again when entering courtrooms, grand jury rooms or jury assembly rooms. Hand sanitizer shall be provided at various locations within the courthouse for frequent usage, especially after handling documents.
• Cleaning and disinfection of tabletop surfaces, chairs, witness stand, lectern/podium, and any other common surface area in frequent use shall be performed regularly.
• Jurors who are selected to serve as members of the grand jury shall notify the District Attorney if they show any symptoms of illness, even mild symptoms, during their grand jury service or have been exposed to a COVID-19 positive individual.
• Food and drink, if provided, will be individually packaged.
• Questionnaires will be mailed with the summons to potential jurors in order to screen for vulnerable persons and those with known COVID-19 risks. The questionnaires should be completed promptly and returned to the office of the Clerk of the Superior Court in each county.
• All potential jurors who have not been excused shall call in 48 hours before the date you have been directed to report in order to confirm that you or a family member are not experiencing any current COVID19 symptoms and/or to confirm the date and time that you are to report has not been changed.
If you would like to review the Judicial Emergency Orders, see a court calendar, read about the types of courts in our circuit, or review a list of family resources in our community, please visit our circuit website at www.appalachiancourts.com. On our website, you will also find our court Twitter feed updates, which you can follow on Twitter @AppalachianCt for up-to-date information about our court system.
BLUE RIDGE, GA – With a judicial emergency in place across the state, Georgia district attorneys and offices are evaluating jail populations to determine who can and cannot be released.
The Appalachian and Enotah Judicial Circuit are continuing to work with law enforcement to protect the community as well as provide those incarcerated with their “Constitutional and statutory rights.”
Both circuit’s district attorneys have confirmed that jail lists are being reviewed, and their offices are working with their respective sheriffs’ offices to try and prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 in the jails.
Jails are confined living quarters, like universities or army bases, where disease can quickly spread without precaution measures in place.
Appalachian Judicial Circuit Update
Appalachian District Attorney Alison Sosebee released a statement, which said:
“In regard to the status of current criminal court proceedings in the Appalachian Judicial Circuit, on March 14, 2020, Governor Kemp declared a Public Health State of Emergency based on the potential infection and continued transmission of the Coronavirus/COVID-19. As a result, the Georgia Supreme Court declared a Statewide Judicial Emergency. In Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Melton’s Order, he states that “courts should remain open to address essential functions, and in particular courts should give priority to matters necessary to protect the health, safety, and liberty of individuals.” In Justice Melton’s Order, he provides examples of “essential functions” such as (1) where an immediate liberty or safety concern is presently requiring the attention of the court; and (2) criminal court search warrants, arrest warrants, initial appearances, and bond reviews. In conjunction with the foregoing, Appalachian Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Brenda Weaver issued an Order Declaring Judicial Emergency in this Circuit comprised of Fannin, Gilmer, and Pickens counties. Judge Weaver ordered, in conjunction with the Georgia Supreme Court Order, that for a period of thirty days, from March 13, 2020, proceedings shall continue to be held on criminal matters including jail bond hearings, jail first appearance hearings, and jail pleas.
After taking into consideration the declaration of a national emergency by President Trump, the declaration of emergency by Governor Kemp, and the declaration of judicial emergency by the Supreme Court of Georgia, the criminal court system in the Appalachian Judicial Circuit will continue to handle jail bond hearings, jail first appearance hearings and jail pleas in a timely manner.
The District Attorney’s office is operating in conjunction with our local and state law enforcement agencies and judges to ensure that those persons who have been arrested and are incarcerated are provided their constitutional and statutory rights BUT also to ensure that our citizens, property, and community are protected as well.
The jail lists in each county are being evaluated on a daily basis so that these matters are addressed in a timely manner, particularly in light of the current limited court hearings. Each case is addressed on its own merits and as always, we will remain in contact with our victims not only seeking their input but to ensure they made are aware of any status changes. In reviewing these cases, the District Attorney’s office is working with the Sheriffs in Fannin, Gilmer and Pickens counties and is taking into consideration any safeguards or quarantining measures the Sheriffs have made to prevent against the transmission of Coronavirus/COVID-19 in our county jails. An utmost priority is to ensure the safety and protection of our community.”
At this time, the Fannin, Gilmer and Pickens jails haven’t reported any cases of COVID-19.
Enotah Judicial Circuit Update
Enotah District Attorney Jeff Langley said he instructed his staff to be “more flexible than normal,” when it comes to people unable to pay their bonds or charged with non-violent crimes, like suspended license. Some of these individuals are eligible to leave, but can’t make bond. By releasing these incarcerated individuals, they have an opportunity to self-quarantine at home. This should help to prevent the pandemic from spreading in the jails.
No one under sentence, felony charges, or deemed dangerous will be allowed to leave the jails.
If an attorney puts in a request for a prisoner’s release, the Enotah Circuit is handling and evaluating the situation.
Langley oversees Union, Towns, White, and Lumpkin counties.
As of March 18, no one in Union, Towns, White, or Lumpkin jails has reported a case of COVID-19.
Northeastern Superior Court Response
Georgia Supreme Court ordered the lower courts to conduct only essential business matters until April 13. As a result, jury trials aren’t taking place for the foreseeable future. However, judges continue to hear search warrants, arrest warrants, initial appearances, bond reviews.
Chief Superior Court Judge Kathlene F. Gosselin issued a memorandum to the accountability courts addressing operations. It outlined guidelines and suggestions during this time. The document advises:
- Telework for everyone whenever possible
- Telehealth options for treatment programs, if in-group treatment is necessary to follow CDC guidelines
- Court sessions should include only include participants who need access to the judge and to follow social distancing
- Confirmed COVID-19 cases should be reported to accountability court leadership as soon as possible
- Drug testing may occur during surveillance visits – gloves and protective gear should be worn
- Find ways to shorten drug testing lines – space them out, put social distancing in place, reduce the number of tests
- Courts can choose to only conduct sessions for individuals with new charges
Readers can see more of Gosselin’s COVID-19 response memorandum here.
Gosselin also stressed the importance of everyone maintaining CDC standards for handwashing, sanitation, and social distancing.
Blue Ridge, Ga. – In what might be remembered as one of the most bizarre trials to be held in Fannin County in 2019, a jury has found 22 year old Hamond Mormon guilty and Appalachian Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver handed down a 55 year sentence in the case.
Mormon, along with his mother Melisse Mormon (aka Melisse Marmon) and cousin Rashad Morman, were accused in the Labor Day 2017 armed robbery of the AT&T store located off of Scenic Drive.
According to law enforcement statements, as well as surveillance footage from the store, Rashad and Hamond entered the store, both armed, and forced employees to hand over cash, personal belongings, and cell phones.
Melisse waited outside for the two to return and drove the getaway vehicle. The resulting chase between the trio and law enforcement involved speeds over 100 mph and only ended when Fannin County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Jacob Pless disabled the suspects’ vehicle through use of a PIT (Pursuit Intervention Technique) maneuver.
A jury made up of 6 men and 6 women, with a female alternate, listened the state’s argument presented by Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney, B. Alison Sosebee and watched the antics of Defendant Hamond Mormon unfold for several days.
Mormon made his intentions known to the court that he would be defending himself and opted out of representation by a public defender.
Mormon also exercised his right to declare Sovereign Citizenship, a move that has repeatedly been struck down by higher courts and considered an invalid claim.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Sovereign Citizens “believe that even though they physically reside in this country, they are separate or “sovereign” from the United States. As a result, they believe they don’t have to answer to any government authority, including courts, taxing entities, motor vehicle departments, or law enforcement”.
One of papers filed by Mormon to Judge Weaver and District Attorney Sosebee states: “As a true flesh and blood American and sovereign citizen, I refuse to participate in any colorable law schemes or practices”.
The first several days of the trial were anything but normal for members of the jury to witness and court staff to accommodate. Mormon, representing himself, would often refuse to acknowledge Judge Weaver as she gave explanations of court proceedings to ensure that he was aware everything that was going on.
Mormon also refused to wear clothes to court and instead sat in the courtroom cloaked in a blanket. Despite his seemingly odd behavior, an extensive mental evaluation was performed by the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities and found Mormon to be of sound mind and competent to stand trial.
On the day of closing arguments, Mormon refused to come to the courtroom all together, and Judge Weaver was putting her foot down as well stating that if Mormon did show he would be required to wear clothing.
Sosebee presented her closing argument to the jury and reminded everyone: “The State of Georgia is not required to prove the guilt of the accused beyond all doubt or to a mathematical certainty. It has to be a reasonable doubt.” Sosebee added to this, “We have in fact carried that burden.”
With Judge Weaver reminding the jury that Mormon’s behavior in the courtroom is not indicative of guilt and that the jury should only consider the evidence presented in the case, the 12 member (plus an alternate) was dismissed for deliberations.
Deliberation only took 21 minutes before the jury informed the court that they had reached a verdict in the case. The foreman stood and read a verdict of guilty on all counts. Weaver polled each jury member individually to ensure that each member had in fact reached this unanimous decision.
“This has been a little bit of an unusual trial,” Judge Weaver spoke directly to the jury before their dismissal, “I appreciate your patience with us.”
After the jury left the courtroom, Fannin County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Todd Pack was once again tasked with inquiring as to whether Mormon would like to enter the courtroom. Mormon had previously declined Pack’s offer for closing arguments and then again for the reading of the verdict.
Declining for a third time to enter the courtroom for sentencing, according to Pack, Mormon stated, “You are sentencing an artificial being. My name is not Hamond Dontel Mormon. I am not who they say that I am.”
Before handing down the sentence Weaver addressed her feelings on the case involving Mormon, “I guess of the three defendants I have a little more sympathy for him because of his background…than I have for the others.”
Weaver went on to explain that after having read Mormon’s evaluation by the state and given the details of his past that she felt “he never really had a chance”.
Mormon received a total of 55 years to serve 50 of those years in prison. A breakdown of the sentencing is as follows:
- Count 1 – Armed Robbery – 20 years to serve
- Count 2 – Armed Robbery – 20 years to serve consecutive to Count 1
- Count 3 – Aggravated Assault – Merge w/ count 1
- Count 4 – Aggravated Assault – Merge w/ count 1
- Count 5 – Aggravated Assault – Merge w/ count 1
- Count 6 – Aggravated Assault – Merge w/ count 1
- Count 7 – Kidnapping – 20 years to run concurrent with Count 1
- Count 8 – Kidnapping – 20 years to run concurrent with Count 1
- Count 9 – False Imprisonment – 10 years concurrent with Count 1
- Count 10 – False Imprisonment – 10 years concurrent with Count 1
- Count 11 – Possession of a Firearm during the Commission of a Felony – 5 years to serve consecutive to Count 2
- Count 12 – Possession of a Firearm during the Commission of a Felony – 5 years to serve consecutive to Count 11
- Count 13 – Possession of Tools for the Commission of a Crime – 5 years probation to run consecutive to Count 12
- Count 14 – Theft by Taking – Merge with Count 1
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Ellijay, Ga. – An incident report from the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office confirmed reports of a student “blacking out” and suffering seizures after inhaling a substance from a SMOK Vape device.
The male student was hospitalized from the incident and later released. The incident, however, did prompt officials to call in K-9 units to search for other drugs. Authorities found two additional SMOK Vapes with one testing positive for containing marijuana. While the
original vape has been tested, no official response is available identifying the substance in the original device.
However, according to the incident report, it was reported that the student was told by a fellow classmate that “there was a vape in the boy’s restroom and he should go smoke some of it.”
With the investigation in Gilmer CID’s (Criminal Investigations Division) hands, no names of the students nor additional information is available.
However, FYN spoke with Gilmer County Charter School Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs who confirmed the incident is part of a larger problem facing the schools today. She told FYN that last year, the school system confiscated eight vape devices over the course of the entire year. This year, they have already collected 25 devices since the beginning of school a few weeks ago.
Each instance results in disciplinary action for the student as it is a violation of the code of conduct, according to Downs, but as the rise in using other substances in the devices continues, the charges against students get far more serious as they deal with controlled substances.
Downs went on to say that she has spoken with other Superintendents to see if Gilmer is alone in the rise of vape usage. Though she declined to name which counties she had spoken with, she did confirm that Gilmer was not alone.
Confirming the rise in popularity of these devices in several counties, the Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney B. Alison Sosebee made a press release stating, “Within the last week, several teens in Pickens, Gilmer and Fannin counties have experienced medical emergencies as a result of “vaping,” by use of electronic cigarettes. These medical emergencies necessitated treatment by both EMS and treatment at hospitals.”
Many of the vape devices found being used are very small handheld devices easily concealed within one’s palm or bag, like a purse or book bag, or even in one’s pocket as several designs become thinner and shorter. Downs confirmed they have found Juul brand vapes and last weeks incident report confirmed the males vape was a SMOK brand. Sosebee notes, “Some e-cigarettes look like regular cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. Some look like USB flash drives, pens, and other everyday items.”
As the use of vapes themselves are intended to be used with nicotine for adult smokers, the rising concern is the ability to swap out the common “juice” for homemade cocktails or drugs. Downs confirmed that reports have been made of students crushing Adderall and other things to make the “juice.”
According to Juul’s website, “These alternatives contain nicotine, which has not been shown to cause cancer but can create dependency. We believe that these alternatives are not appropriate for people who do not already smoke.”
Sosebee also commented on other substances that have been found in the devices saying, “The liquid that is inhaled, known commonly as “vape juice,” can contain any number of substances: it can contain flavoring; it can contain nicotine; it can also contain drugs and illegal substances such as THC oil, fentanyl and LSD. Of great concern, the user may or may not know what they are inhaling, what their reaction will be to the substances, what they are exposing others to and may erroneously believe that they are simply inhaling “harmless water vapor.” There is nothing harmless about what is occurring.”
Downs went on to say that some parents may have purchased vapes for their kids not knowing that they are swapping out the contents. The feeling was echoed by Sosebee as she called for parents to “be aware of the dangers of vaping and e-cigarettes.”
With concerns rising from parents, administration, and law enforcement alike, investigations are continuing as programs and events are attempting to educate the community about the devices and their popularity.
Downs said the Gilmer Administration is stepping up efforts in educating and building awareness in their staff about what to look for and also to educate our parents in the community saying, “I feel like there is a real lack of knowledge and lack of understanding among our community in relation to this… This has blown up overnight to the point that I feel like its almost epidemic.”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Appalachian Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Mary Elizabeth Priest announced her recent qualification for and intent to run for the Superior Court bench in the May 2018 non-partisan General Election. Ellijay has been her home for 30 years.
The Superior Courts handle civil matters, including family and domestic litigation, criminal cases, ranging from traffic violations to felonies, as well as transfers and appeals from Magistrate Court and Probate Court. In our Appalachian Circuit, Superior Court judges are responsible for dockets and jury trials in Fannin, Gilmer, and Pickens counties.
Mary Beth is a graduate of Gilmer High School and North Georgia College and State University. Before
attending law school, she served as a case manager and investigator for the Pickens County Department
of Family and Children Services. She later received her Doctorate of Jurisprudence from Georgia State
University. She began her legal career as an associate attorney at Downey & Cleveland, in Marietta, in
2006. In 2010, she joined the law firm Clark & Clark, in Ellijay, where she practiced complex civil litigation.
Priest said, “It has been a great honor to serve on the bench for the past two years. One of my goals has
been to build a bridge between our community and our court system. I am proud of the progress we have
made in that regard. Being a judge is an enormous responsibility that I take very seriously. I ask the
people of the Appalachian Circuit to trust me with their vote. If they do, I will continue to work hard for
our community with the same commitment to efficiency, impartiality, fairness, and responsibility that I
have had since my first day on the bench.”
Judge Priest was appointed by Governor Nathan Deal in 2016 to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Roger Bradley. In addition to being involved with and frequently speaking at local civil organizations, she initiated and helped coach the Gilmer High School Mock Trial team’s inaugural season this year. As an adopted child born into foster care, she has also done outreach for adoption agencies as a strong advocate for foster and adopted children.
Her husband, Jeremy, owns and operates a scrap metal recycling company as well as a plumbing company, and they live in Ellijay with their two children. Her father, Mike Williams, and mother, Lorie Stanley Williams, originally of Stanley Creek in Fannin County, also live in Ellijay.
BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, returned to class today, Feb. 28, just two short weeks after one of America’s deadliest mass shootings in modern history took place in their halls.
In the wake of this tragedy, which claimed 17 lives, discussion have opened up about school safety and what can be done to prevent situations like this from occurring in the future.
Brian K. Pritchard (BKP), chief executive officer of FetchYourNews and host of Good Morning From The Office morning show, invited local officials from Gilmer and Fannin counties to address the safety of our local school systems.
In opening the discussion, BKP directly asked both Gilmer and Fannin County School superintendents how safe do they feel the schools in our area are.
Fannin County School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney answered from a personal perspective: “My child is in a Fannin County school this morning.”
“We are always vigilant in watching what’s going on with our students, watching what’s going on on social media,” Gilmer County School Superintendent Dr. Shanna Wilkes said, explaining why she too felt the schools in her county were safe, “and staying in constant contact with our law enforcement.”
“What I feel has come out of Parkland (shooting) is a breakdown in the system,” BKP pointed out to the guest panel and questioned how officials have addressed any recent incidents.
Gilmer County Sheriff Stacy Nicholson replied that his department has had to respond to incidents almost daily for the past two weeks, but clarified that most complaints are not serious.
“The problem is law enforcement can no longer say that’s not serious. We have to take it serious,” Nicholson explained.
Modern times are different according to Nicholson and he stressed, “Pranks are no longer pranks. When it comes to school safety we will investigate and we will prosecute and arrest or send you to juvenile court.”
Many counties in Georgia do not have school resource officers (SRO) assigned to every school in their district. Fortunately, for both Fannin and Gilmer, this is not the case. All schools within each system has its own SRO, and all panel members feel that this is a major element in keeping our schools safe.
“Are all the SRO officers armed this morning?” BKP directly asked the panel. Both Nicholson and Fannin County Sheriff Dane Kirby replied that all officers on all campuses were armed.
Gilmer County School Resource Officer Sergeant Greg Dodson explained the duties of an SRO: “A very large part of the job is visual security. It’s patrolling the interior and exterior of the school, checking doors, making sure that they’re locked, trying to monitor who comes and goes.”
“If you see someone at the schools that you don’t recognize, make sure they have a visitor pass, that they’ve gone through the office properly,” Dodson added.
Other duties include checking parking lots, bathrooms, hallways, and interacting and developing relationships with the students.
In Gilmer County, to become an SRO, a deputy must submit a formal letter requesting that position. A panel of the officer’s peers then formally recommends who they feel should be placed in that position. Sheriff Nicholson makes a final decision based on the panel’s recommendations.
Fannin County Sheriff Dane Kirby confirmed that the process in Fannin County is very similar to Gilmer County and added, “That’s not a job (SRO) that you have just to draw a paycheck. That has to be something that the deputy wants to do.”
“From the very get go, it has to be what that person really wants to do,” Kirby said, explaining that the SROs in place are not only trained but also have a passion for that particular field.
Training for an SRO goes beyond that of a police academy. This training includes a School Resource Officer course, Crisis Intervention Training, Gun Safety, and in-service training such as active shooter scenarios.
Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney B. Alison Sosebee was present to discuss the legal aspects of threats against a school and what her department does in collaboration with law enforcement to combat any potential crimes.
“I just need one referral to start. I need one concerned student. I need one diligent parent. That’s what allows us to be able to initiate the investigation and to assess what we need to do next,” Sosebee described of the process of how her department can become involved.
Sosebee said we are fortunate to live in a smaller community where residents feel comfortable speaking up when there is an incident that makes them feel uncomfortable.
Confirming Sosebee’s thoughts on residents willing to tip off authorities, Gilmer County School Superintendent Dr. Shanna Wilkes said, “In my experience, when we’ve had a threat that we needed to investigate, I have not gotten it from one person. I get it from 50 people within about an hour.”
“No matter how good you are technologically, there is no substitution for a good tip,” Fannin County School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney expressed in similar views.
Both Fannin and Gilmer County school systems continue to take steps to improve safety measures in their schools. Gwatney is looking into extra safety measures using technology. This would include a large network of monitoring devices.
Wilkes is working to renovate Gilmer High School. She would like to implement scan cards for access to doors and is working to restructure the building to create a single point of entry through the front office.
With large campuses and multiple buildings, BKP asked, “Would you look at letting teachers or putting that program into place at your schools to allow weapons in there and how would it work?”
Texas has legislation, School Marshal, to allow teachers to carry weapons on campus, and Florida recently passed similar legislation. Currently in Georgia, there is no statewide legislation on the issue, but rather Georgia allows local school districts to create their own policies regarding this matter.
Gilmer County has looked at sample legislation from other counties in the past, but never voted to enact a policy. Wilkes said that she would favor a policy that would require the individual to qualify with a firearm and that would obligate the individual to attend an annual firearm training course.
Wilkes also would like there to be anonymity in which teachers are armed within the school.
“It would have to be very regulated. It takes the right person, like it takes the right SRO,” Wilkes shared of her stance.
Gwatney was not opposed to the idea but does not want it to negatively affect an educator’s job: “The purpose of a teacher to care for the kids and teach for the kids. We don’t want to create a situation where we force the teacher to try to take on a law enforcement role.”
The panel also expressed frustrations on a system that sometimes works against them in their efforts to keep our children safe.
On a criminal level, Sheriff Nicholson expressed disappointment in a system that seems increasingly unwilling to keep a juvenile in detainment: “It’s getting harder and harder to get someone detained. That’s frustrating.”
Sosebee confirmed Nicholson’s frustration and explained, “Part of that, the court system with relation to that, is the restrictions that are put on the court system as to when these juveniles can be detained and when they cannot be detained and that is where a lot of the hands tying is coming from, from the court system.”
Just like law enforcement, the school systems feel that there is legislation and policy in place that ties their hands when they witness “red flags”.
BKP pointed out the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which has grown since it was first enacted and states that schools being a government agency must accommodate individuals with diagnosed disabilities.
Wilkes acknowledged that the ADA does play a heavy role in how schools can handle disciplinary situations: “In many cases, you’re dealing with students who have a disability such as an emotional behavioral disorder, which falls under special education.”
In such cases, if a student makes a threat or acts in a way that requires disciplinary action, the school must first have a Manifestation Hearing.
In a Manifestation Hearing, a panel is made up of a licensed school psychologist, the student’s special education case manager, a teacher that works directly with the student, an administrator, and the parents or guardians of the child.
The panel determines if the threat or infraction is directly related to the student’s disability. If it is deemed that it is in relation to the disability, then disciplinary action cannot be taken.
If it is deemed that the issue is not related to the child’s disability, then a tribunal is formed to determine what disciplinary actions should be taken.
“If a student has any disability at all,” Wilkes clarified, “even if it’s a learning disability in reading, and let’s say they try to burn down the school, then we have to have a manifestation hearing to see if that learning disability led to them trying to burn down the school.”
Due to this process and the strict rules surrounding juvenile privacy, Wilkes stated if it is related to a disability “our hands are tied as to what we can do.”
The panel agreed that collaboration between departments along with a proactive stance on safety is the best route to take when it comes to the welfare of our counties’ children but felt that changes could be made in legislation that would make providing our schools with this security a much more efficient process.
You can watch BKP’s Good Morning From The Office #AnythingGoes School Safety Special in the video below.
“No evidence has been presented to show any violation of code of Judicial Ethics by Judge Weaver. Instead, the evidence appears to show a personal dislike of the Judge.”
Last week the Georgia Judicial Qualification Commission dismissed the complaint against Appalachian Judicial District Chief Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver.
“The complaint of Thomason, Stookey, Doss and the GCSPJ are without any basis in law or fact. The complaints are nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to enlist the JQC in their fixation upon harming Judge Weaver. The JQC will have no further part in it. All complaints are hereby dismissed.”
The complaint was submitted to the JQC by Mark Thomason, former publisher of the Fannin Focus, his attorney Russell Stookey and Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss.
In the JQC conclusions they addressed the Georgia Chapters Society of Professionals Journalist complaint that Weaver mounted an attack on freedom of the press.
“Calling oneself a “journalist” and “reporter” should not be a cover for pursuing personal vendettas.”
Stookey and Thomason with the assistance of Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss raised a complaint to the FBI to initiate an investigation.
JQC, “The FBI investigated the allegations raised by Stookey and Thomason but found no wrongdoing.”
On June 15th Atlanta Attorney Gerry Weber, representing Russell Stookey and Mark Thomason, sent a demand letter and Ante Litem Notice to Judge Brenda Weaver, District Attorney B. Alison Sosebee and Pickens County Board of Commissioners.
Part of Weber’s summary of claim, “This case has already garnered national attention. It involves breathtaking abuse of power by a Judge, prosecutor, and law enforcement who manipulated the criminal justice system to wage a personal vendetta against a local newspaper publisher and his attorney.”
Weber’s claim for damages conclusion, “Further accounting for damages stemming from the emotional distress in false arrest and malicious prosecution and for the punitive damages due to egregiousness of the actions leading to the arrests, Stookey’s and Thomason’s damages exceed 1,000,000.”
How far will this case go considering the FBI and JQC have closed their investigation both dismissing the possible charge of wrongdoing.
BLUE RIDGE, GA – Judge Winegarden denied the first appeal on behalf of Jane Whaley and the decision to disqualify her as candidate for Blue Ridge City Council Post One.
On Friday, October, 13, 2017, an appeal hearing was held at the Fannin County Courthouse. The case was heard by Judge Richard Winegarden due to the recusal of the Superior Court Judges who serve in the Appalachian Judicial Circuit which includes Fannin County Superior Court.
City Council Post One Candidate Jane Whaley was found ineligible to run after a hearing questioning her residence was held on Monday, September 25, 2017.
Election Superintendent Barbie Gerald was tasked with this initial decision, and decided to disqualify Whaley based on evidence presented. Gerald stated in a letter explaining the decision, “Under Mrs. Whaley’s own testimony, she did not reside within the city for the 12 month period.”
Whaley publicly stated shortly after the decision, “I believe I am a legitimate candidate, and I am going to appeal this decision.”
Whaley’s attorney Frank Moore filed an appeal on the decision to disqualify Whaley reciting that Georgia is a domicile state, and under that definition intent to dwell qualifies as residency.
The hearing on October 13, began at 5:00 P.M. and lasted until 9:00 P.M. Judge Winegarden heard arguments from both sides, Moore representing on Whaley’s behalf and City Attorney David Syfan representing the decision made by Gerald.
After hearing the evidence presented, Winegarden denied the appeal. He found “that the determining of the Election Superintendent should be affirmed.”
Moore requested a stay on Winegarden’s decision at that time. This would allow Whaley’s name to continue to be on November 7, 2017, election ballots, and give time for the Georgia Supreme Court to hear the case.
Winegarden did not grant this request, but Moore is hopeful that the Georgia Supreme Court will issue a stay if granted a hearing on the appeal.
Moore is preparing a request for an appeal of the decision to the Georgia Supreme Court. He expects to have this request entered by Tuesday or Wednesday, October 17th / 18th.
Campaign signs supporting the candidacy of Jane Whaley have recently been removed from the City of Blue Ridge. Moore also sent a request that these signs be put back up while Whaley continues her appeal process.
Congratulations to our newest CASA Volunteer Training graduates sworn in on May 5, 2017, by Chief Juvenile Judge Jan Wheeler.
Appalachian CASA staff members graduated six new CASA volunteers to be sworn in as officers of the court. From left to right: Kerri Henderson, Volunteer Supervisor, Melanie Davis, Advocacy and Training Manager, Don Evans, Jessica Kassow, Kimberly Rodriguez, Tony Guisasola, Becky Guisasola, Mary Anderson, Chief Juvenile Judge Jan Wheeler, Dianne Scoggins, Executive Director, Lisa Salman, Volunteer Supervisor,
Many more child advocates are still needed! Won’t you help us reach every child? Two out of every three abused and neglected children is waiting for a CASA volunteer to stand up for a child. You can help!
Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers are making a tremendous difference in the lives of abused or neglected children in the foster care system. Appalachian Judicial Circuit recognizes the positive difference that CASA volunteers have made to children. These children are faced with tough situations, and entering the foster care system can be traumatic. They aren’t just removed from their homes but most times are removed from their schools, friends and community.
CASA volunteers are specifically trained as guardian ad litems. Their court appointment order gives them the authority to talk to and get to know the child. Volunteer advocates speak to everyone involved in the child’s life, including their family members, teachers, doctors, lawyers, social workers and others; and makes written recommendations to the court for the child’s best interest. The advocate is often the only constant adult presence in the child’s life.
If you are interested in learning more about becoming a CASA volunteer and the rewards that come along with serving as the voice of a child, you can visit our Facebook page at CASA of the Appalachian Judicial Circuit. The next child advocate training session for Gilmer, Fannin and Pickens counties is scheduled for July 21, 2017. For additional information contact Melanie Davis, Advocacy and Training Manager, at 706.515.2700, 706.276.CASA, or via email at [email protected]
CONTACT: Melanie Davis, Advocacy and Training Manager
Appalachian CASA 706-515-2700 or [email protected].
Thursday, December 29th, Pickens County Probate Judge David W. Lindsey administered the oath of office for Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney B. Alison Sosebee. Fannin, Pickens, and Gilmer counties make up the circuit.
Sosebee, “I want to express my heartfelt thanks to the voters of Fannin, Gilmer and Pickens counties for being elected to another term as District Attorney of the Appalachian Judicial Circuit. Being sworn in to a second term is both an honor and humbling that the citizens of the Appalachian Judicial Circuit have placed their trust in me. In looking forward to the upcoming term, each criminal case will continue to be evaluated on its merits and this determination will be made without bias or prejudice towards any person. I also look forward to continuing and expanding the community outreach and prevention programs supported and sponsored by the District Attorney’s office.”
The Circuit’s Chief Judge Brenda S. Weaver made some brief comments concerning accountability courts. Weaver stressed how important it is to have the support of the District Attorney for the accountability courts to be successful. Weaver thanked Sosebee for the DA’s committed support to the speciality courts. The specialty courts consist of Appalachian Judicial Circuit Adult Drug Court, Mental Health Court, Adult Veterans Drug Court, Family Drug Court, & Juvenile Drug Court.
Sosebee will be starting her second term. She ran unopposed in both the 2016 primary and general election. Sosebee defeated incumbent Joe Hendricks and former superior court judge Harry Doss in the 2012 primary for her first term.
Watch the video below and meet DA. B. Alison Sosebee
By Elaine Owen, Editor of Fannin Sentinel
Facing at least one formal ethics complaint, the judge who chairs the state Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) resigned from the agency Friday.
Brenda Weaver, chief Superior Court judge of the Appalachian Circuit and chairwoman of the JQC since April, announced her resignation in an email to her six fellow commission members late Friday. Weaver gave no reason for her resignation but said, “The work of this commission is extremely important and nothing and no one should distract from its duties and responsibilities.”
Weaver said she intends to use the time she had spent working on judicial ethics matters “to expand and improve services” in her circuit’s accountability courts and veterans court.
An ethics complaint had been filed against Weaver last month by the Society of Professional Journalists in connection with a civil subpoena and a public records request drawn up to obtain bank records associated with Weaver’s court operating account, which is funded by taxpayer dollars from the three counties in her judicial circuit.
Court Appointed Special Advocates of the Appalachian Judicial Circuit is currently recruiting new community volunteers! As an advocate for the children you will be able to make a difference in the life of a child that is involved in the family court system. For more information on how to become involved, please contact Courtney Weaver at [email protected] or call 706-276-2272.
Now that the dead of winter has killed back grass and bushes, styrofoam cups, plastic bags and empty beer cans tossed out of cars onto the road show ugliness of irresponsible people. A clean roadside just makes a community look and feel better. So, Blue Ridge city government enlisted the help of the Appalachian Judicial Circuit to clean up. The Circuit send probationers completing community service hours to pick up the trash.
Two probationers, Derrick Tanner and David Johnston, were out along Hwy. 76 on sunny Saturday Feb. Jan. 30. They cleaned up the road from Ace Hardware to shortly before the Lake Blue Ridge Dam. Derrick Tanner said that he was loves being outside and, of course, even picking up trash is a lot better than staying at home under house arrest. They said that the dogs were more scary than the cars. Tanner also thanked, in his words, “really nice and awesome” Circuit Judge Brenda Weaver for realizing that she has our lives in her hands and giving him a second chance at life.
Through community service hours, Appalachian Judicial Court probationers can provide services that local governments would need to scrape the bottom of the money barrel to be able to complete. The probationers are also working on the Baugh House in downtown Blue Ridge. The Circuit court assigns community service hours to organizations and governments in Pickens, Gilmer and Fannin counties.
A celebration was held January 26th 2016 in honor of Superior Court Judge Roger Bradley’s retirement. A large crowd of colleagues, friends, and family attended the gathering to honor Judge Bradley and wish him well on the next chapter of his life. Chief Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver spoke of Judge Bradley’s career and presented him with a plaque. Attorney George Weaver spoke at the gathering and reflected on the memories with the crowd.
Judge Bradley has shared with us about his plans to spend time with his family and do some traveling. FYN would like to wish him well.
Superior Court Judge Honorable Roger Bradley has announced his retirement effective January 31st 2016. Judge Bradley spoke with FYN earlier and expressed how much he will miss all the wonderful people he has had the opportunity to work with over the years. However he is looking forward to visiting with family and has made some exciting travel plans. Judge Bradley has released the following statement:
Judge Roger Bradley Announces Retirement
Let me take this opportunity to thank all of the voting constituents of the Appalachian Judicial Circuit for the confidence and trust in me to serve as your Superior Court Judge for the last fifteen years.
It has truly been a privilege to be a public servant to this circuit and to those litigants that have come in to court.
There is however a “season” for all things and now is the appropriate opportunity for me to take leave and to enjoy places and things that I have wanted to enjoy throughout my service as a Superior Court Judge. Effective January 31, 2016 I will be retiring as a Superior Court Judge, however, it is not without regrets because of the friends I will miss, however, as best said by my bailiff who also recently retired because of family health issues, he stated “I don’t like long good byes”.
That fits very well here but I do want to thank again all of the voting constituents for their confidence and trust throughout this past fifteen years of service.
There will be a retirement celebration for Judge Bradley on Tuesday, January 26th 2016 in the Jury Assembly Room in the Gilmer County Courthouse between 4 and 6 pm.
The retirement announcement from Judge Bradley coupled with the recent appointment of Superior Court Judge Amanda Mercier to the Georgia Court of Appeals will leave two vacancies on the Appalachian Judicial Circuit. Governor Nathan Deal will make appointments to fill the vacancies on the bench. This may make for a very interesting election season. Always go to FetchYourNews.com for the most recent election coverage. Click on Election 2016 for up to date information.
Some technology has been around forever while smart phones are relatively new. The majority of kids have one and are responsible users however kids are kids and our greatest investment and resource. Recently it came to our attention how fast times have changed and some misuse with smart phones. Most kids have cell phones or internet access on a daily basis. There is good and bad and like anything, sometimes it is all in how it is used. The issues facing children change from year to year and how people are equipped to handle the change can make all the difference. This is where our local District Attorney of the Appalachian Judicial Circuit B. Alison Sosebee stepped up to help us all be proactive.
Frustration can sometimes lead to solutions and in this case Sosebee believed prevention to be the best solution. Tired of seeing indecent photos on confiscated phones from school children prompted Ms. Sosebee to put together a program for the children and the parents. FetchYourNews.com has video productions of the program and also brought a town hall live. We also did an Anti Bully Campaign in the middle schools asking the children to provide essays, posters, or videos on the subject of cyber bullying to help raise awareness and hopefully provoke thought on the issue.
The Weapons of Mass Destruction addresses the downfalls which can change a life forever with the misuse of a cell phone, from cyber bullying to sending or possessing indecent photos. The program for the parents addresses safety precautions parents can take; such as apps which monitor children’s phones and control access to certain unsafe and detrimental sites or activities. The program developed by DA Alison Sosebee is very direct and informative and FYN plans to continue with our campaign by using various methods of raising awareness and sharing information.
The only problem with the Weapons of Mass Destruction campaign was the limitation of the distribution. Since Sosebee only serves Fannin, Gilmer, and Pickens and the problems are prevalent all over our Country. Thus another solution avails and also an opportunity to inform parents and educate our children and hopefully prevent much heartache. Today Sosebee will be sharing the well put together program with other District Attorneys from all over.
The Annual Winter meeting of the District Attorneys’ Association is being held in Morrow, GA on December 3-4, 2015 and Ms. Sosebee will have the floor to present her program “Weapons of Mass Destruction” to the other District Attorneys and explain the issues which brought about the campaign. The desire is for the program to become widespread. Hopefully the other District Attorneys will take advantage and set up presentations in the regions they serve. The program may help combat problems before they arise. FYN looks forward to soon announcing the new areas the program is being used. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Ms. Sosebee told us in regards to the program she has high hopes it will change the future for many children; who may avoid a serious mistake or a permanent record. The program provides a better understanding of the consequences of misusing a cell phone or bullying. She also hopes it will provoke children to think about how they treat each other and how they value their own dignity. Her philosophy in regards to these issues, “No matter how educated, talented, rich, or cool you believe yourself to be, how you treat people ultimately tells all. Integrity is everything.”