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WHAT WILL TODAY’S TENNESSEE LEGISLATORS DO?
from a reader and resident of Tennessee
(Jun. 17, 2012) — [Editor’s Note: A registered voter in Tennessee sent the following to her state representative, Phillip Johnson, after reading our report from Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III regarding laws passed in 1984 by the Tennessee General Assembly ordering the courts to reorganize which were never implemented. Instead of convening grand juries by districts, as ordered by the new laws, judges across the state continued to preside over criminal matters in each county, with grand juries and trial juries selected strictly from each county’s population. The 1984 laws ordered that 31 judicial districts be created, with most districts to comprise several counties.
The registered voter’s communications with Rep. Johnson are presented here in chronological order.]
Sent: Monday, June 04, 2012 11:03 AM
Subject: Serious Crininal Matter
Dear Mr. Johnson,
In 1984 the legislature ordered the elimination of all county criminal courts in the State of Tennessee. It has come to my attention that the counties have continued to conduct criminal courts in violation of the order set forth in 1984.
Veteran Walter Fitzpatrick III has been harassed by the county of Monroe. While I know that this will cause a major problem, being that many people have been convicted and served time after being convicted in an illegal court, I am sure you understand the seriousness of this situation and as my representative will investigate and take steps to correct this problem.
No one is above the law, and this includes the county police force and court judges.
redacted – registered voter
Kingston Springs, TN
Having received no response, the registered voter sent another email:
Sent: Friday, June 15, 2012 2:46 AM
Subject: Serious Crininal Court Matter
Dear Representative Johnson,
I sent the below note to your office on June 4th, and have not received a reply. The matter discussed in the note is one of Constitutional rights for ALL citizens of the great State of Tennessee. If the courts have been illegally conducting trials and convicting citizens in a court that was eliminated by law in 1984 – TCA 16-16-101 and TCA 16-2-507 – then their Constitutional rights have been violated.
Is there a more important issue than the Constitutional rights of our citizens?
Just so you know. I do not have a friend or family member incarcerated in a Tennessee jail. I am simply a concerned citizen.
Thank you in advance for your reply,
redacted – registered voter
Kingston Springs, TN
cc: Editor of Post and Email
Editor’s Additional Notes
When The Post & Email joined a live chat session on June 15, 2012 with Knoxville News Sentinel crime reporter Jamie Satterfield regarding a fiery exchange which took place on June 14, 2012 between Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood and Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols, we submitted two comments explaining the discovery of the 1984 laws ordering criminal matters to be heard by district and not county courts with references. Subsequently we were banned from participating in the live chat. Satterfield continued the session with readers, telling her audience that Blackwood was, in her opinion, “a fair-minded judge.”
In the field of journalism, reports are expected to be objective so that the audience can make up its own mind about the matter at hand. If the reporter’s opinion is injected into the discourse, it is considered editorializing.
Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood is the same judge who stated during an arraignment hearing for Walter Fitzpatrick that there was “no proof” that a person named “Angela Davis” who served on the “Monroe County Grand Jury” in 2009 and again in 2010 was the same person. Because the Monroe County court clerk collects significant personal data on those selected to be prospective grand jurors, it would appear that it would not have been difficult to verify Blackwood’s assumption in order to comply with the law.
TCA 22-2-314 prohibits the service of anyone who has served on a jury during the preceding 24 months:
22-2-314. Limitation on jury service.
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.
HISTORY: Acts 2008, ch. 1159, § 1.
Later on June 15, Fitzpatrick reached Satterfield by telephone and explained his discovery of the 1984 laws. He told The Post & Email that she responded, “I have never heard of district courts in Tennessee,” although she has been a reporter for the News Sentinel since 1994. When Fitzpatrick told Satterfield that The Post & Email had participated in the chat session earlier that day and attempted to bring the matter to her attention, Satterfield did not offer a response. She then told Fitzpatrick that she would investigate our reports about the 1984 laws and the evidence that they have never been observed by the judiciary. Fitzpatrick said that he told Satterfield that when she sat in court on the 14th observing the events involving Blackwood and Nichols, she had actually been sitting in a probate court unauthorized to deal with criminal cases.
Following the live chat on Friday, The Post & Email received a response from a member of the public submitted to the editor’s mailbox appearing to attempt to refute our contentions. The exchange of emails began:
Please note that TN courts ARE organized by district. It just so happens that Knox count and the 6th Judicial district have the same boundaries.
Other districts include multiple, smaller counties.
This mail is sent via contact form on The Post & Email http://www.thepostemail.com
Because TCA 16-2-506(6)(A) designates the county of Knox to be its own district, The Post & Email responded:
Yes, we are aware of that. However, the other counties never reorganized, and the stationery and court documents used do not indicate “district court.” They still say “Monroe County Criminal Court” or “Knox County Criminal Court,” unless you know otherwise.
If so, please send that documentation to us. Thank you for your response.
Sharon Rondeau, Editor
The Post & Email
The person then replied:
They are all District courts. Lawyers still refer to the “Knox County Criminal Court”, but the proper way to refer to it is “the Sixth District Criminal Court at Knox County” Same with Monroe county – “The 10th Judicial District Criminal Court at Monroe County”
Judges are state employees, not county employees and run for office by districts, not by county.
Since people practice in counties, it is just a shorthand to refer to the “Monroe County Chancery Court” but it is just that – shorthand.
All courts of record in Tennessee are based on Districts – and the District Attorneys general are based on Districts as well.
Judges in the 10th Judicial District “ride the circuit” – hold court in Cleveland, Athens, and Madisonville. But there is one Clerk, One DA, and the Judge(s) split their time between those locations – all in the 10th District. (Bradley, McMinn, Monroe, and Polk Counties)
To which The Post & Email replied:
Then why does each county have its own grand jury? Why do the grand juries not comprise citizens from the district?
A county court is defined by TCA 16-16-107. The way in which grand juries are selected is mandated by TCA 16-2-510.
We then received the following:
Because crimes are committed in counties, not districts. Jurisdiction is still by County – the political boundaries.
I see your confusion – re-read 16-16-107 – the county court is basically the Probate court with some chancery court jurisdictions.
Read 16-16-101(b) and 16-16-107(b) – county court jurisdiction only applies to 5 counties.
Also – the County Judge, 16-16-106, is not a precluded from practicing law in the state courts.
These duties do not conflict or intrude on the State courts of record (Circuit, Criminal, Chancery).
TCA 16-16-101 reads:
(a) A court is established in each county for the dispatch of probate and other business entrusted to it, to be called the county court.
(b) Subsection (a) shall only apply in counties having a population, according to the 2000 federal census, of: Click here to view image.
(c) In counties having a population of not less than thirty-nine thousand fifty (39,050) nor more than thirty-nine thousand one hundred fifty (39,150), according to the 2000 federal census or any subsequent federal census, the circuit court clerk, who also serves as the general sessions court clerk, shall serve as the clerk of the court with probate jurisdiction in any such counties.
HISTORY:Code 1858, § 127 (deriv. Acts 1835-1836, ch. 6, § 1); Shan., § 221; Code 1932, § 161; modified; T.C.A. (orig. ed.), § 16-701; Acts 2003, ch. 310, §§ 1, 6-10; 2005, ch. 245, §§ 1, 2.
Fitzpatrick had found a volume containing Tennessee Code Annotated published as a “2009 Replacement” with the “Seal of the Tennessee Code Commission,” the names of members of the state Supreme Court, and the name of the state Attorney General, Robert E. Cooper, Jr. on the front. However, the laws it contains are indicated as current to the 2011-2012 session of the Tennessee General Assembly.
TCA 16-2-506, entitled “Establishment of judicial districts — Assistant district attorneys general — Criminal investigators — Equity and law courts – Chancery courts” explains the redistricting plan dealing with criminal investigations within the designated districts. The notes contained in the 2009 volume indicate that changes to the court system were made and were to take effect on June 1, 1984.
A citizen of a county within the Tenth Judicial District told The Post & Email that in speaking with his state senator, shaking his hand and then discussing the 1984 laws in regard to the judiciary, the senator responded, “I don’t believe you,” dropped the man’s hand and walked away.