2007-04-01

Athens-Clarke loses appeal of order to release records

The Georgia Court of Appeals has denied a rehearing in its decision to order Athens-Clarke County to release its police investigation records concerning the murder of Jennifer Stone to the Athens Banner-Herald. See "Court upholds decision ordering records release" on 3/31/07 from onlineathens.com. The decision reverses the decision of Athens-Clarke County Superior Court by Judge Lawton Stephens.

The Court's opinion favoring the newspaper is Athens Newspapers, L.L.C. v. Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County, 2007 Ga. App. LEXIS 258, 2007 WL 677777. The Court of Appeals docket number is A06A1786; the Superior Court number is SU05CV1704S.

1 comment:

Winfield J. Abbe said...

Thank you Adrian for posting this most enlightening information whereby the Georgia Court of Appeals goes on record in support of openness of government in Georgia as the Georgia Legislature obviously intended in the Georgia Open Records Act, but local governments, like Athens Clarke County, have been obstructing for for years with the use of public tax money paid to various lawyers, some disclosed, some undisclosed, but all discussions among the lawyers for Athens, secret.
This is not the first instance when the "Unified Government of Athens Clarke County" went to court to prevent disclosure of the investigative files for the "unsolved" Jennifer Stone Murder and sexual assault. Reference is made to articles published in the former Athens Observer "Tolley seeks to dodge deposition" March 28, 1996, "Stone Murder Files dubbed 'state secrets', March 28, 1996 and "Stone Files will remain closed", May 16, 1996. These articles, all written by national award winning UGA graduate investigative journalist Elton Manzione, are available in a "vertical file" in the Heritage Room, Athens Public Library on Baxter St. for any citizen to read. Unfortunately they were written before the internet and are not available there. My wife, Mary Anne Abbe, who is currently president of the Athens Historical Society and has just been given an award for "Excellence in Community Service" by the National Daughters of the American Revolution for writing 3 books on Athens Clarke County taxes in the Nineteenth century, helped me a few years ago dig these articles out of the former Athens Observer newspapers on microfilm in the UGA Library basement, because she and many other citizens of Athens are vitally and "obsessively" concerned about "justice" in Athens Clarke County, Georgia, or the lack of it due to government,police, lawyer and judical and district attorney secrecy.
But is not the word obsesssive applicable to the Athens Clarke County "Unified" government since it is they who have sought to obstruct disclosure in this case in court in 1996, when the late Scott McLarty sought release of the Stone case records, and today,2007, when the Athens Banner Herald finally made such a formal request. A few years ago I offered to put up $1000 personally toward the cost of such a lawsuit if Pete McCommons and Flagpole Magazine would join the Athens Banner Herald in such a lawsuit. Nothing came of that. But the Athens Banner Herald is to be commended to taking the issue this far. But the devil is in the details and it is not over until it is over. Obviously the Athens Government, which portrays itself with polite, restrained "smiles" on television, has a different face with lawyers in secret, behind the scenes. In fact, the above documents demonstrate that the investigative files were undisputedly already shown to lawyer Tolley years ago, but Athens Clarke County went to court to prevent lawyer Scott McLarty the same "privilege". For as is stated in "Stone Files will remain closed above",
"...McLarty countered that Tolley's request to produce in Michael Gaines divorce case, as reported by The Athens Observer, 'specifically sought identifiable documents.'
McLarty also noted that no protective order had been filed by the county in response to Tolley's request. 'The "state secrets" defense cannot be selectively applied.', McLarty said. 'If he had access to them, they're no longer secret.'"
"No one denied Tolley may have had access to the documents. He declined comment after the hearing and did not return subsequent phone calls.
McLarty said he subpoenaed the documents to be sure the material was available to Smith when he was being questioned."
Here we are 15 years after the crime this month (April 23, 2007), and the Athens Clarke County "Unified" government is still adamantly but surreptitiously misusing untold amounts of taxpayer money to pay lawyers to obstruct the Open Records Law, in patent violation of the law itself as expressed by the Georgia Court of Appeals. They are not voluntarily complying with the law now as they did not voluntarily comply then either. What does this government have to hide by opening up this dormant investigative file? Have they destroyed all or parts of it? Has the main suspect been even DNA tested? What was all that legal mumbo jumbo back dating documents as documented in the article "Stone case DNA: a tale of two tests", Athens Observer June 20, 1996? If the local Athens government fails to have a review by the Georgia Supreme Court of this issue, they will likely use every obstacle to releasing the information and continue to flaunt the Georgia Court of Appeals in its order to release this vital public information. Every citizen of Athens should contact their "representative" and the "Mayor" and demand the "Unified Government of Athens Clarke County" comply with the Georgia Court of Appeals Order and open the dormant Jennifer Stone Investigative files without further delay and obstruction by county lawyers at public expense.

Winfield J. Abbe
A.B., Physics, UC Berkeley, 1961
M.S., Physics, California State University at Los Angeles, 1962
Ph.D., Physics, UC Riverside, 1966.
Citizen of Athens since 1966 and former tenured faculty member, physics department, UGA, 1966-1978.
150 Raintree Ct.
Athens, GA 30607
706-543-3356
P.S. Every citizen should remember, Jennifer Stone could have been your daughter, granddaughter or loved one too. Many citizens of Athens Clarke County are vitally concerned about this case notwithstanding their silence in the matter.