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DISCOVERED BY WALTER FITZPATRICK LAST MONTH
by Sharon Rondeau
(Jun. 15, 2012) — A report in the Knoxville News Sentinel dated June 14, 2012 described a courtroom scene whereby Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood refused to recuse himself in the case of two heinous murders committed in 2007 which are scheduled to be reheard because the original judge, Richard Baumgartner, was found to have been under the influence of drugs when he presided.
Baumgartner has been charged federally with misprision of felony.
On the home page of the News Sentinel today was an announcement that reporter Jamie Satterfield would be answering the public’s questions regarding the heated exchange between Blackwood and Randy Nichols, Knox County District Attorney General. The question-and-answer session ran from 11:30 a.m. EDT to 12:30 p.m. EDT. A transcript of the session is here and shows that at 11:41 a.m., The Post & Email left the following comment:
Comment From Sharon Rondeau
Is anyone aware that county criminal courts were outlawed by state statute in 1984? TCA 16-16-107 established that county courts were to handle only civil matters. TCA 16-2-506 mandated that all criminal courts reorganize at the district level and that grand jury members be chosen from the districts, which were to comprise several counties. For the last 28 years, the “county criminal courts” have been outlawed, but no one will acknowledge it!
We received no response to our comment and submitted a follow-up:
Comment From Sharon Rondeau
The information about the 1984 laws is here: http://www.thepostemail.com/
Subsequently we tried to submit two more comments about the court system in Tennessee which never appeared. In personal notes to record the events, The Post & Email wrote:
My comment about a constitutional, legal district grand jury and Blackwood participating with other state judges in outlawed county criminal courts was not published.
12:15 p.m. My comment about courts operating illegally since 1984: http://www.thepostemail.com/2012/05/29/fitzpatrick-the-judges-in-tennessee-need-to-stand-up-legal-grand-juries/
The comment did not show up. I was obviously placed on block.
On May 14, 2012, Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III told The Post & Email that he had located laws still part of the Tennessee Code Annotated which directed the courts throughout the state to reorganize. The matter heard yesterday in Knox County was of a criminal nature but was heard in a county court in violation of the 1984 law which mandated that only district courts hear criminal cases. What, then, did Satterfield have to discuss with her audience?
Several comments from members of the public showered Satterfield with comments about her reporting, but the information we attempted to convey regarding illegally-convened grand juries, trial juries and criminal courts was censored. Why?
In some of her responses, Satterfield offered opinion rather than fact:
He is, in all the cases I’ve covered involving him, a fair-minded judge. I think what we are seeing in this case is his frustration at being demonized for what he perceives as the unpleasant task of doing his job.
While Nichols has said he won’t run for DA again, others in his office may well do so and I am sure he is mindful of that.
Satterfield’s bio does not indicate that she is an attorney.
Fitzpatrick found that in 16-16-107 of the Tennessee Code Annotated, the duties of the county courts were clearly delineated by the legislature. TCA 16-16-101 established county courts “for the dispatch of probate and other business entrusted to it, to be called the county court.”
TCA 16-2-506 laid out the new judicial districts and, along with the other laws cited here, is indicated as current in 2012. It begins, “The state is divided into thirty-one (31) judicial districts composed as follows:” and then outlines the counties which will comprise each new district.
TCA 16-2-510 is entitled “Holding of court — Terms abolished — Grand juries.” It reads:
(a) Court shall be held within each judicial district at such times and on such dates as the judges of each judicial district fix by rule. Court shall be held in each county within the district as often as is necessary to dispose of the business of the court. Not less than thirty (30) days prior to the rule taking effect, the rule shall be published and circulated to the practicing bar, and filed with the administrative director of the courts.
(b) Terms of court are abolished and the minutes of all courts shall remain open continuously. Any reference in Tennessee Code Annotated to the beginning of a term of court shall be deemed to be a reference to the appropriate date fixed by rule as provided by this section.
(c) New grand juries shall be impaneled at least twice a year at times selected by the presiding judge of the district. The presiding judge within each district shall be responsible for designating the foreperson and for impaneling, charging and receiving the report of the grand jury, but may designate another judge to perform these responsibilities. In those districts in which there is a criminal court judge or judges, the criminal court judge or judges shall perform the duties pertaining to the grand jury assigned to the presiding judge by this subsection (c).
At the bottom of the statute it reads: “HISTORY: Acts 1984, ch. 931…”
Tennessee counties have continued to operate criminal courts despite the laws passed in 1984, convening their own grand juries, issuing search and arrest warrants, and holding criminal trials.
The Post & Email’s growing catalogue of articles on the little-known laws which Fitzpatrick discovered while preparing for his own defense in a case to be heard on June 28, 2012 is here. Fitzpatrick has approached the Chattanooga Times Free Press, The Daily Post-Athenian, a local radio station, and the Advocate & Democrat about the laws and has received no response. The Post & Email has contacted the Knoxville News Sentinel in the past about criminality in the courts in addition to today’s live chat, and not one reporter or editor in any instance has requested more information from either Fitzpatrick or us.
The complete Tennessee Code Annotated can be read here.