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Common sense breaks loose in Georgia

Here’s the other shoe dropping on the saga of the Georgia journalist served with a protective order by a politician, detailed in this space last week in “Hell’s broke loose in Georgia.”

If you came in late, here’s the nut of it: A man running for county commission in suburban Atlanta, Thomas Owens, served George Chidi, a journalist covering his campaign, with an ex parte temporary restraining order after Chidi approached him at two campaign events and started asking questions.

Chidi said he wanted to give Owens an opportunity to provide info and comment for a story; Owens said Chidi’s manner was threatening and that he told Owens that he would “destroy” him, an allegation Chidi denied.

The case went to court this week.

Actually Chidi and Owens were in court twice. In addition to the TPO, Owens apparently took out a warrant for stalking against Chidi, but never had it served.

Gwinnett County Magistrate Judge Kenneth Sissel, sitting in DeKalb County, held a hearing on Oct. 14 on the stalking warrant; Chidi said on his blog, www.georgechidi.com, that he got wind of it from another reporter who posted a garbled copy of Owens’s application.

According to Chidi, the judge tossed out the application cold, telling Owens: “If this is stalking, Sam Donaldson would have gone to jail.”

Fast forward about 24 hours.

DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Cynthia Becker on Oct. 15 heard the case on the protective order. She too threw it right out of court.

According to an observer in the courtroom, she told Owens that he should have expected reporters to be persistent, and that was the price he paid for running for office.

Order restored in Georgia. But sit back and think about this one a minute.

A political candidate attempted to use two different stalking laws – statutes designed to combat the very real problem of domestic violence – against a reporter trying to write a story.

Chidi said that during the first hearing, it became pretty clear that when Owens applied for the TPO, he didn’t mention that Chidi was a writer, that he himself was a candidate or that the alleged incidents occurred at public campaign events. He “merely claimed that I had showed up at a church and harassed him, then called him and sent him text messages. Chidi said.

That a candidate would try to use the courts against a reporter this way in the middle of election season is chilling.

That two different judges handled this so summarily and appropriately is reassuring.

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