McMinn County, TN Judge Neglects to Properly Vet Prospective Jurors

IN ACCORDANCE WITH STATE STATUTE

by Sharon Rondeau

(Jun. 12, 2017) — On Tuesday, the “McMinn County, TN Criminal Court” selected new trial jurors for the remainder of calendar-year 2017.

The “court” is expressed with quotation marks as a result of a set of laws passed in 1984 by the Tennessee legislature ordering the county criminal courts to combine with others in a carefully-laid-out plan to form judicial districts which was never observed.

While Tennessee’s extant “county criminal courts” continue to function independently as they did before the laws were passed, the judicial districts as designated by the legislature were formed.

McMinn County is one of four within Tennessee’s Tenth Judicial District, the remaining three being Monroe, Bradley and Polk Counties.

Some large counties, such as Knox, were designated to become their own judicial district.  The legislature indicated that the county courts were to be limited to civil matters such as probate, guardianship, wills, estates, and name changes.

In regard to criminal courts, grand jurors are chosen once a year, while trial jurors are chosen twice per calendar year. According to Tennessee Code Annotated (TCA) 22-2-310, “The members of the grand and petit juries shall be made up as provided by law from the jury pool.”

TCA 22-1-101 sets forth the qualifications of jurors:

The text of the law reads:

22-1-101.  Obligation to serve — Qualifications.

It is policy of this state that all qualified citizens have an obligation to serve on petit juries or grand juries when summoned by the courts of this state, unless excused. Every person eighteen (18) years of age, being a citizen of the United States, and a resident of this state, and of the county in which the person may be summoned for jury service for a period of twelve (12) months next preceding the date of the summons, is legally qualified to act as a grand or petit juror, if not otherwise incompetent under the express provisions of this title.

Another statute, TCA 22-2-314, states that no juror may serve on a grand or trial jury in the state of Tennessee if he or she has served during the previous 24 months.

Fitzpatrick discovered in 2010 that that law is not consistently applied.

A McMinn County resident and observer to Tuesday’s proceedings, LCDR Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III (Ret), told The Post & Email afterward that Judge J. Michael Sharp neglected to properly screen the potential jurors, who were assembled in two groups at 9:00 a.m. EDT and 11:00 a.m., respectively.

While Fitzpatrick said that Sharp questioned the prospective jurors in accordance with TCA 22-1-101, he did not observe TCA 22-2-314.

“I realized there was a question Sharp didn’t ask which is required,” Fitzpatrick told us.  From having studied Tennessee Code as it relates to juror selection, The Post & Email responded with, “‘Has anyone served within the past 24 months?'” which Fitzpatrick confirmed was the missing query.

Fitzpatrick said that in an unusual development, McMinn County Sheriff Joe Guy was acting as bailiff for Sharp.

Fitzpatrick said that during the break between juror selection sessions, he told elected circuit court clerk Rhonda Cooley that the judge failed to ask a necessary question to properly screen the potential jurors.  Cooley responded by asking Fitzpatrick the nature of the question.  After Fitzpatrick said he wished to relate it to Sharp directly, Cooley stated that she would notify Guy, who would notify Sharp.

After several minutes, Guy emerged from Sharp’s chambers to approach Fitzpatrick, stating that Sharp was “busy” and could not meet with him.  Guy asked Fitzpatrick to write out the question so that he could relay it to the judge, which Fitzpatrick declined to do.

The 11:00 a.m. session began, with Sharp again asking the questions pertinent to TCA 22-1-101, although worded differently from the first session, but excluding the provision outlined in TCA 22-2-314.  “I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt the first time,” Fitzpatrick said,  “but the second time was on him.”

Fitzpatrick reported that after the potential jurors underwent Sharp’s questioning, Fitzpatrick made his exit.  “I was the only person in the courtroom not obligated to be there,” he said. “I was sitting up front.  But at that point, when the questioning was over, I walked out.”

In August 2014, Guy’s deputies took Fitzpatrick into custody at the county jail after Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood sentenced him to three years in state prison as a result of “aggravated perjury” and “extortion” convictions by a McMinn County trial jury.  Fitzpatrick was imprisoned for more than two years and two months, during which time he developed septicemia, a life-threatening infection, and underwent three surgeries on a limb.

He was discharged on October 25, 2016, 40 pounds thinner than when he was taken into custody, with a soft cast on the affected limb and a bus ticket and overnight ride to back to Athens in McMinn County.

Fitzpatrick was charged after attempting to approach the “McMinn County grand jury” with evidence of local-government corruption among judges; prosecutors; court clerks; Guy and his deputies; and the grand jury foreman, who was handpicked by then-Judge Amy Armstrong Reedy.

In 2009, Fitzpatrick inadvertently discovered that all Tennessee “criminal court” judges hand-pick the grand jury foreman from outside of the jury pool, who serves for as long as the judge wishes, sometimes for decades.  The hand-selection of the grand jury foreman was one of Fitzpatrick’s chief complaints which he and his attorney, Van Irion, insisted was protected speech and activity under the First Amendment.

8 Responses to "McMinn County, TN Judge Neglects to Properly Vet Prospective Jurors"

  1. Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III   Tuesday, June 13, 2017 at 10:00 PM

    To T.F. Bow (fogbow) and Bertrand R:

    “Never try to teach a pig to sing. It’s a waste of time, and, it annoys the pig.”

    -Robert Heinlein
    USNA Class of 1929

    Absent is a retort to “Ned Travers” who just got hammered, being put in his/her place.

    Take a position in these matters, clowns, any time. I look forward to capturing your written record. Just keep on writing…using fake names. Cowards.

    Show yourselves. See how that works out!

    Meanwhile, just keep on writing!!

    Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III
    Commander, U.S. Navy, Retired
    USNA Class of 1975
    Email: jaghunter1@gmail.com

  2. T.F. B0W   Tuesday, June 13, 2017 at 9:22 PM

    What’s Fitzpatrick’s “day job” that makes him an expert in jury selection?

  3. Bertrand R.   Tuesday, June 13, 2017 at 8:11 PM

    It’s obvious that Mr. Fitzpatrick needs to begin making another round of citizen’s arrests starting with this judge who didn’t follow the law as Mr. Fitzpatrick interprets it. I look forward reading about the arrests on this blog.

  4. Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III   Tuesday, June 13, 2017 at 6:35 PM

    Responsive to “Ned Travers:” What color is the sky in your world? Using your real name?

    J. Michael Sharp’s job yesterday was to establish that people summoned into the McMinn County Jury Pool in June were “legally qualified” to serve for the term 1 July – 31 December 2017.

    The process used is for the presiding judge to tell prospective jurors what those qualifications are, then place them under oath asking, in open court, whether each individual meets the those qualifications.

    A person is legally disqualified and rendered “incompetent” to serve failing to meet all the “express provisions” of Title 22, Tennessee Code Annotated (22-1-101).

    Expressed as one provision: No person is to be summoned to serve on a jury inside a minimum of 24 months of having completed a preceding jury term anywhere in Tennessee.

    For example: During yesterday’s 11:00 AM session, Judge Sharp announced to the jury pool that they must be a Tennessee citizen in order to serve. Then Sharp asked the group, “Is everyone here a Tennessee state citizen?” One man stood and said: “No.” Sharp called the man to the bench, and then released him from the jury pool.

    Another woman was dismissed because she did not live in McMinn County only after Sharp told her she had to be a resident of the county, then asked her if she was.

    Upon knowing of the requirement, the woman answered “No” and was dismissed.

    Sharp did not tell anyone in the jury pool yesterday they were disqualified from jury duty in the event they’d completed a jury term on a Tennessee county grand jury or county trial jury within the past 24 months.

    In that Sharp failed to tell jury pool members of the requirement, he was as delinquent in not asking anyone whether they had severed on another Tennessee county jury in the last two years.

    The “purpose” of the state statute mandating a 24-month period between service Tennessee juries is not relevant. The requirement is the law.

    End of argument.

    The example you offer, “Ned,” of being summoned to jury service to a “state” court while already serving on a jury for a county court is wrong.

    Tennessee uses a county court system. There are no “state” courts.

    The statement you make citing T.C.A. 22-2-313 is as ridiculous.

    It is fraud on the court to seat a person into a jury who is disqualified, knowingly or unknowingly. And it’s a showstopper once discovered, no matter whether the challenge comes from the defendant or from any other direction.

    No “jury” exists as a lawfully operating entity whereupon a person or persons is/are legally disqualified from serving. Call the group what you will, it’s not a jury.

    One more observation, “Ned:” I was alerted to attend yesterday’s jury selection court hearing having been shown a court summons to a person who’s been dead for two years.

    Don’t quit your day job, “Ned.”

    Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III
    Commander, U.S. Navy, Retired
    Email: jag hunter1@gmail.com

  5. Sharon Rondeau   Tuesday, June 13, 2017 at 9:33 AM

    Then you have a lot of reading to do!

  6. ned travers   Tuesday, June 13, 2017 at 8:24 AM

    I’ve looked at your website and can’t find any statute other than 22-3-314 that has been offered as evidence. And I think you are confusing the term “summoned” and “served.”

    The law does not say that a juror cannot serve consecutive terms. The law states that a juror “shall not be summoned to serve another jury service term in any court of this state.” The purpose of the law is to protect citizens from overly burden jury summons.

    For example, if one is summoned for a county court, it is possible for a state court that is unaware of the previous service to issue a summons. The citizen in this case can point to his previous service and be released from the obligation of serving another term of jury service.

    And again, I point to TCA 22-2-313. Under 22-2-213, a jury that consists of someone who has served 2 consecutive terms is not invalid unless a party involved in the proceeding objects before the jury is sworn. The objection could be made by either the prosecution, defense, or the juror.

  7. Sharon Rondeau   Tuesday, June 13, 2017 at 7:23 AM

    The Post & Email has been provided evidence that jurors have served consecutive terms in violation of the 24-month provision of the law and that the judges are aware of it. Whatever “records” they keep are not adequate to ensure that the law is observed. If there were no human intervention in the jury-selection process, this phenomenon would not occur assuming that computers do the initial selection of the names.

  8. ned travers   Tuesday, June 13, 2017 at 12:25 AM

    The judge is not required to question whether a juror has served in the prior 24 months under 22-2-314. The law reads:

    “A juror who has completed a jury service term shall not be summoned to serve another jury service term in any court of this state for a period of twenty-four (24) months following the last day of such service; however, the county legislative body of any county, may, by majority vote, extend the twenty-four-month period.”

    The court is not allowed to summon a person to jury duty if that person has served in the prior 24 months. The courthouse probably keeps records to make sure that they don’t call someone who has served in the prior 24 months. In the case of a mistake where a citizen has been improperly summoned, the citizen may bring the issue to the court’s attention and be excused. The purpose of 22-2-314 is to protect citizens from an undue burden of jury service.

    Furthermore, TCA 22-2-313 states:

    “In the absence of fraud, no irregularity with respect to this title or the procedure under this title shall affect the validity of the selection of any grand jury or the validity of any verdict rendered by a petit jury unless the irregularity has been objected to before the jury is sworn.”

    So even if a juror is improperly summoned by accident and somehow ends up on a jury, the verdict rendered by the jury stands unless someone has filed an objection before a jury is sworn. In effect, procedural errors do not invalidate a jury’s verdict unless there is fraud.

    Case law supports this interpretation. https://casetext.com/case/state-v-marsh-91 and https://www.courtlistener.com/opinion/1637636/state-v-wiseman/

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