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07 October 2014

DeKalb County Commission Candidate Obtains Restraining Order Against Peach Pundit Blogger

In what can easily be described as a first, a Georgia political blogger is now barred from being within 100 yards of a candidate for DeKalb County Commission.

George Chidi, who blogs at Peach, was ordered by DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Nora Polk to stay away from Tom Owens.

Owens is a candidate for the DeKalb County Commission seat vacated by Elaine Boyer. Boyer resigned from office after a federal investigation revealed she used public funds for personal use. Tom Owens, a Republican, is one of five candidates hoping to replace Boyer.

According to court documents obtained by Political, Tom Owens claims Peach Pundit blogger George Chidi committed acts of stalking on 18 September 2014 and 5 October 2014.

Georgia law states, "A person commits the offense of stalking when he or she follows, places under surveillance, or contacts another person at or about a place or places without the consent of the other person for the purpose of harassing and intimidating the other person." [O.C.G.A. § 16-5-90]

A hearing in DeKalb County Superior Court is scheduled to determine if Owens' temporary protective order against Chidi will remain in effect.

The Chidi case raises new questions about what constitutional protections should be afforded to bloggers who seek and publish stories about candidates for public office.

Chidi authored very long, self-described "opposition research madness" post scrutinizing Tom Owens, 6 October 2014, titled Tom Owens, A Man Amok.

Candidates for office expect to be placed under a high-powered microscope by the news media and the public at-large. The question remains, however, are bloggers considered part of the news media; and if so, at what point does fleshing out a legitimate news-worthy story cross into stalking territory.

That's the question Judge Polk will have to answer in just a few weeks.