IS $325.75 THE PRICE FOR A VIOLATION OF LAW?
by Sharon Rondeau
(Sep. 3, 2014) — On Wednesday, The Post & Email sent an appeal to an Open Records request made on August 22 which had received no response during the mandatory seven-business-day period.
The appeal was faxed to Patty Gaines, “Clerk and Master” of the McMinn County Chancery Court in response to the provisions of the law for appeals.
McMinn County Criminal Court clerks Sherry Anderson and Pat Newman had failed to respond to two email requests for an audio recording and/or typed transcript of the sentencing hearing for Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III from August 19, 2014.
Several months ago, Anderson told The Post & Email that we were forbidden from calling the courthouse to request documents despite the fact that we were never rude nor unreasonable in either of the two calls we had made to request public documents to that time. We were instructed to put everything “in writing” by either email or fax.
Tennessee courts are not accustomed to scrutiny by the public or the media. Fitzpatrick has exposed systemic corruption in Tennessee’s Tenth Judicial District over the last five years which was turned against him to culminate in two felony convictions and a three-year prison sentence by Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood.
Blackwood was noted to have stated during the sentencing hearing, “I am sick and tired of these people coming in here and talking about the Constitution!” and “So what if the grand jury foreman is serving illegally?”
Fitzpatrick’s petitions to the McMinn County grand jury had alleged just that and asked the grand jury to investigate.
The Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts spokeswoman has refused to comment on Blackwood’s behavior in the courtroom. Blackwood is a “senior” judge, which means that he draws a pension at taxpayer expense and serves where he is needed throughout the state.
A second Open Records waiting period expired at the close of business on Wednesday when the Monroe County chief court clerk Martha M. Cook, and Anderson and Newman in McMinn County, failed to respond to our requests for copies of surety bonds mandated by a change in the law last year to be held in each county clerk’s office.
A link to the Monroe County government web page is non-functional as of this writing.
Gaines’s response letter appears below.
On June 24, Fitzpatrick was convicted of “aggravated perjury” and “extortion” for taking numerous petitions on different occasions to the McMinn County grand jury for evaluation. “Extortion” in Tennessee is defined as an attempt to:
(1) Obtain property, services, any advantage or immunity; or
(2) Restrict unlawfully another’s freedom of action.
The pre-sentencing report prepared by Judith Hilton-Coffman of the Board of Parole stated that there was “no victim” in the case. However, during the August 19 hearing, Hilton-Coffman amended her statement to say that the state had located a victim, which was former grand jury foreman Jeffrey Cunningham.
Cunningham is a licensed Tennessee attorney and President & CEO of Athens Federal Community Bank, where he draws a salary of more than $630,000 annually.