Committing acts of journalism.

A magistrate’s court judge heard Tom Owens‘ application for a warrant on stalking charges today, and threw it out cold. “If this is stalking, Sam Donaldson would have gone to jail,” he said.

However, the temporary protective order remains in effect, barring me from being with 100 yards of Mr. Owens or contacting him until the emergency hearing tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. in Judge Cynthia Becker‘s courtroom.

I like my chances.

Owens argued that I am a big scary guy and that asking questions too loud and in his face (I really wasn’t) constituted a threat. “It’s OK if you ask me questions in a respectful manner,” he said. But apparently approaching him and asking questions loudly enough to be heard by a man walking away from you is perceived as a physical threat to him.

Owens’ grand evidence of my perfidy is a video of me trying to ask him about his putative daughter and Joe Newton getting in my face — literally, six inches from my face — to hurl invective and insult while I sternly questioned why Newton was invading my personal space. The video depicts me as mildly exasperated, showing his cameraman the court documentation about his arrest and conviction for stalking, along with his mugshot, and explaining why I have questions.

My attorney, the inestimable Thomas Clyde of Kilpatrick Townsend and the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, asked Owens about his criminal and civil history, in part to demonstrate the relevance of my questions. And for the first time, I heard some answers.

Owens attributed all the restraining orders and police reports bearing his name to political retribution for his work exposing corruption. I’m sure Ms. Davis will be gratified. She’s the woman he dated in Forsyth County in 2006, years before Owens’ supposed anticorruption work, who ultimately pressed charges against him after months of harassing calls including one in which he said not to “underestimate his power.”

In a hilarious moment, Owens told the judge that he couldn’t talk about the restraining order that Susan Fraysee placed on him because of a settlement and a “gentleman’s agreement” not to discuss it. The man needs a lawyer. Joe Newton doesn’t count.

Both Newton and Wayne Witter testified that I had threatened Owens, but after seeing the video that Owens supplied, the judge kept asking them what the absolutely worst thing that they believed I had done, that merited a charge … and both gave answers that amounted to me asking questions in a way they found objectionable.

Witter repeated the claim that I had said “I would destroy you” to Owens. They produced no recordings to support the claim. And their own video undermined their argument that my other conduct constituted harassment.

Witter claimed in open court that they could find no copy of my DD-214 — my Army discharge papers. Brother, Bill Torpy of the AJC has a copy of it, and there’s a photocopy sitting in an envelope in the desk of Pine Lake police chief Sarai Y’hudah-Green, available for inspection … provided I can be there with a video camera to record your reaction and your apology.

After this, I think it’s becoming clear that Owens probably never told the initial magistrate that I was a writer of any sort. It’s entirely possible given Owens’ initial testimony today that he never bothered to mention that he was a candidate, nor that the meeting at a church was a public candidate forum — that he merely claimed that I had showed up at a church and harassed him, then called him and sent him text messages.

The court brought in a magistrate from Gwinnett County, Judge Kenneth Sissel, to hear the case. I can only assume it’s because the political element, to avoid appearance of bias. We asked for the hearing to be continued because Owens never bothered to serve notice of the hearing. Owens appears to have been going for three ex parte hearings in a row. We only heard about it because Bill Simon of the PoliticalVine site so kindly posted a garbled copy of the warrant application on his site. Thanks, Bill.

Sissel held the hearing any way. While ruling, Sissel said that the questions I had asked and the way I had asked them might not pass an etiquette test, but asking questions as I did of a political candidate would be acceptable for any journalist, or any blogger, or any voter, or even anyone who wasn’t going to bother to vote.

For what it’s worth, I smiled at Joe Newton when I realized how done they were. After Sissel’s ruling, Newton addressed the court to tell me to stay away from him, and that Newton would seek a new protective order barring me from being near him. And the madness continues to roll along.

I only hope Owens, Newton and Witter all bother to show up to court tomorrow to defend their claims, because I can imagine them chickening out after this.

If you would like to support the legal defense of journalism — the Georgia First Amendment Foundation would be an excellent place to direct your filthy lucre.

And if you want to support … well, broke-ass me … then feel free.

Buy George a beer: $5

Buy George dinner: $20
Buy George a security guard: $100
Buy George a lawyer: $500
Buy George the antidote: $1000

Note: giving me money is not a political donation. (At least, not today. I don’t have a campaign account.) This is not a non-profit donation. I’m offering nothing except my continued interest in afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted.

Posted in Uncategorized

Journalism is not a crime.

This morning, I posted on Peach Pundit a lengthy and difficult story about Tom Owens, a candidate for DeKalb County’s commission and a man with a years-long history of strange public behavior.

This afternoon, a DeKalb County sheriff’s deputy served me notice of a “stalking temporary protective order,” barring me from any acts “stalking, harassing or intimidating the Petitioner and/or the immediate family of the Petitioner.”

A hearing has been scheduled for October 22.

The date matters. Owens is running in a special election called after the resignation of Elaine Boyer. Qualification closed less than a month ago; a campaign that might normally stretch over six months has been compressed into less than two.

I have no idea what he might have told the judge that would have convinced her to sign a TPO. I’m eager to find out. Meanwhile, I am now legally barred from asking questions of a candidate for public office — a public figure by any definition — sharing responsibility for overseeing a $1.2 billion budget, until two weeks before the election ends, if then. I am legally barred from even attending public events at which Owens may appear — the rule is 100 yards.

Mr. Owens has every right to refuse comment. And he has plainly done so.

But if this is allowed to stand unchallenged, it sets a precedent that a politician receiving unfavorable press at a sensitive moment can use the power of the court to bar coverage. The word “chilling” doesn’t cover it. It’s outrageous and dangerous and almost certainly unconstitutional.

I believe the story I wrote to be well reported and well researched. But given the findings — a long list of police reports, restraining orders, a no-contest plea to stalking and a legal accusation calling for unpaid child support — I considered it irresponsible not to make every possible effort to give Mr. Owens an opportunity to offer his side of the story, and to help correct inaccuracies before publication. Instead … this.

I’ve contacted Tom Clyde of Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, and we are exploring legal options.

Meanwhile, if you would like to support the legal defense of journalism — or just buy me a beer — feel free to donate to the cause below.

EDIT: Tom Clyde is representing me pro-bono now. My legal defense is covered.

However, I’m still a broke-ass writer working on a book about civic participation in Georgia. If you donate, you’ll get first dibs on it when I’m done.

The Georgia First Amendment Foundation would also be an excellent place to direct your support.

Buy George a beer: $5

Buy George dinner: $20
Buy George a security guard: $100
Buy George a lawyer: $500
Buy George the antidote: $1000

Or Dwolla, if you are so inclined.

Note: this is not a political donation. This is not a non-profit donation. I’m offering nothing except my continued interest in afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted.

Posted in Uncategorized

Adventures in Governance

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