- Law Cases
by Sharon Rondeau
(Feb. 18, 2014) — On Tuesday, Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III (Ret.) attempted to bring a criminal complaint to the McMinn County, TN grand jury naming the foreman, Atty. Jeff Cunningham, McMinn County Sheriff Joe Guy, various Tenth Judicial District judges, McMinn County Court Clerk Rhonda Cooley, and others as having committed “official misconduct” and other crimes against the citizenry and him personally.
The purpose of a grand jury as defined in the Fifth Amendment is to evaluate evidence against an individual to determine whether or not charges should be leveled.
As a matter of routine, judges throughout Tennessee choose the foreman of the grand jury in open violation of state law, which requires that all grand jury members be selected randomly without human intervention. The process utilized to hand-pick the foremen has not been disclosed.
The courts have both defined the foreman as a juror and a non-juror, depending on the situation. On June 3, 2010, indictments issued by the Monroe County grand jury defined foreman Gary Pettway as “a juror” to charge Fitzpatrick and Darren Wesley Huff with the crime of “intimidating a juror,” but in a brief submitted to a Tennessee appeals court in September, Deputy Attorney General Kyle Hixson stated that the foreman is not a juror and is selected by a different method than the 12 grand jurors.
Many foremen serve for years, if not decades, at the pleasure of a judge or judges. As reported in The Tennessean in August, a businessman in Davidson County has served “at least 20 times” as grand jury foreman, according to a local District Attorney, “because he runs such a tight ship.”
The Tennessean makes clear that the frequently-serving foreman, Stan Fossick, is a personal acquaintance of the Davidson County Criminal Court judges. “For most of the judges, the appointment has a personal touch,” the newspaper reported.
Davidson County is the location where a grand jury foreman chosen by a judge was found to have been a convicted felon, and the cases over which he had presided had to be reviewed by an appellate court at an unknown cost to taxpayers.
A Vanderbilt University professor commenting on Fossick’s constant reappointment said, “The purpose of the grand jury is to get the community’s opinion about whether a crime has been committed. If the grand jury foreman were appointed over and over again, arguably you wouldn’t have a totally impartial panel of citizens.”
Tennessee law requires grand juries to comprise 13 members, but with the judges’ involvement in hiring the foreman “from wherever they choose” as the purported 13th member, the “grand jury” is compromised by the influence of a county employee. Last August, The Tennessean reported that grand jury foremen “rarely vote,” but do so if their vote is judged necessary to yield the 12 votes necessary to issue an indictment if one person dissents.
Several weeks ago, Fitzpatrick discovered that Cunningham is an active member of the Tennessee Bar Association (TBA), where he expresses a special interest in the area of “Criminal law – prosecution.” In his most recent complaint, Fitzpatrick demanded that the TBA rescind Cunningham’s law license and disbar him permanently.
Cunningham has blocked Fitzpatrick from presenting criminal complaints to the 12 grand jury members on five previous occasions beginning in November 2012, with the same result on Tuesday. Fitzpatrick claims that Cunningham’s actions are a means to “obstruct and prevent the McMinn County grand jury from performing its officially delegated and constitutionally fundamental duties” (page 4).
Judicial and other public corruption has been rampant in Tennessee for decades. In August 1946, a group of World War II veterans rousted the crooked McMinn County Sheriff and his deputies for having perpetrated election fraud, intimidation, shakedowns of citizens, and injury to a man who had attempted to cast a vote in what came to be known as “the Battle of Athens.”
By controlling the foremen, the judges can heavily influence the outcome of the grand jury’s “deliberations.” At the federal level, Fitzpatrick has found that an average citizen cannot testify to a grand jury without the permission of the U.S. attorney for the district in which the grand jury sits.
Fitzpatrick has termed the commandeering of the grand juries and their foremen by the judges a result of the “dictatorship of Tennessee’s judiciary” which has “taken away the grand jury from all Tennessee citizens.”
Tags: criminal law, Darren Wesley Huff, Davidson County TN, Dictatorship, Fifth Amendment, Gary Pettway, grand jury foreman, Jeff Cunningham, judicial corruption, Kyle Hixson, McMinn County grand jury, Tennessee, Tennessee Bar Association, The Tennessean, Walter Francis Fitzpatrick III