McMinn County, TN Court Clerks Fail to Answer Open Records Request on Fitzpatrick Sentencing Hearing

REQUEST FOR AUDIO RECORDING FALLS ON DEAF EARS

by Sharon Rondeau

Will the McMinn County Chancery Court Clerk respond to The Post & Email’s petition for redress resulting from an Open Records request which did not receive a response according to the law?

(Sep. 3, 2014) — On August 22, The Post & Email submitted an Open Records Request to McMinn County, TN court clerks Sherry Anderson and Pat Newman for an audio and/or transcript of the August 19 sentencing hearing for CDR Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III (Ret.).

Fitzpatrick was sentenced to three years in prison by Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood on convictions stemming from his repeated attempts to submit criminal evidence to the McMinn County grand jury between August 2012 and March of this year.

Tennessee law states that an Open Records request must be responded to within seven business days.  If no such government records exist, the party receiving the request is obligated to impart that information to the requester in writing.

As the close of business on Tuesday marked the seventh business day, The Post & Email faxed a petition on Wednesday morning to McMinn County Chancery Court clerk and master Patty Gaines utilizing the procedure set forth in the Open Records law.

In sworn statements from eyewitnesses and mainstream media reports, Blackwood is reported to have made statements during Fitzpatrick’s sentencing which likely do not comport with the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts’ stated ethics guidelines for the judiciary.  Blackwood’s remarks included calling Fitzpatrick “a moral coward,” asking the rhetorical question, “Who cares if the grand jury foreman is appointed illegally?  So what?” and the statement, “I am tired of people bringing up constitutional rights.”

TAOC communications director Michele Wojciechowski has not responded to The Post & Email’s request for comment on Blackwood’s statements.

Fitzpatrick exposed systemic corruption in the Tennessee courts when he found in late 2009 that grand jury foremen are selected by judges “from wherever they choose” and remain in place as long as the judge wishes.  The Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure state that the foreman “must possess all the qualifications of a juror,” and jurors are forbidden by law to serve consecutive terms anywhere in the state.

In late May, Fitzpatrick’s attorney, Van Irion, had asked Blackwood to recuse himself from hearing the case for conflict of interest which Blackwood refused.  Irion also asked that the Tenth Judicial District recuse itself, but deputy prosecutor A. Wayne Carter insisted that Fitzpatrick could receive a fair trial.

Irion stated after the sentencing that Fitzpatrick’s First Amendment rights, and those of all Americans, were criminalized by the jury verdicts.

The grand jury which indicted Fitzpatrick on March 18 was compromised, as its members were the identical individuals who had been dismissed in January by then-foreman Jeffrey Cunningham and escorted to their vehicles after Fitzpatrick submitted a petition for their consideration, signaling that Fitzpatrick was a danger to them.

According to The Chattanooga Times Free Press on September 3, 2014, Tenth Judicial District chief prosecutor Stephen Crump described the grand jury as “an independent body exercising independent jurisdiction who can hear facts from … anyone they choose to hear from.”

Wojciechowski has also not responded to a request on which she was copied to the McMinn and Monroe County court clerks for copies of their surety bonds for the years 2012-2014 placed on August 23, the seven-business-day period for which expires at the close of business on Wednesday.

We were referred to Wojciechowski after first contacting the Secretary of State’s office and the Office of the Comptroller of the Treasury for the state of Tennessee, both of whom responded to our query within minutes.  Secretary of State spokesman Blake Fontenay had advised us on August 23 that someone from the TAOC would be getting in touch with us, which never happened.

Public employees in Tennessee reportedly attend church on Wednesdays, but The Post & Email’s fax log showed that our three-page communication reached its destination.

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