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.
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.
“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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
CONTACT: Melanie Davis, Advocacy and Training Manager
Appalachian CASA 706-515-2700 or email@example.com.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call 706-276-2272.
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.”
FYN & ETC 3 brings you a one hour debate featuring B. Alison Sosebee and Incumbent Joe Hendricks.
ETC 3 will re-air the debate on Thursday 8/16 at 9:00 p.m, Saturday 8/18 at 11:00 a.m. and Monday 8/20 at 7:00 p.m. (more…)
You think it’s going to be a hot summer, check out the Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney Race. (more…)