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by Sharon Rondeau

Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood presided over a case in which Fitzpatrick was convicted of two misdemeanors by a compromised grand jury in December 2010

(Mar. 17, 2014) — On Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 8:00 a.m. local time, CDR Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III (Ret.) filed a request for a restraining order against McMinn County grand jury foreman Jeff Cunningham at the McMinn County courthouse.

The petition was left with clerk Gwen Christman and was not the first such request Fitzpatrick had made.

In February, he filed an initial restraining order request after Cunningham threatened to have him arrested for appearing at the courthouse in an attempt to submit criminal evidence to the newly-empaneled grand jury. Cunningham has blocked Fitzpatrick from submitting evidence to the grand jury on six occasions, including the February 18 visit.

The Fifth Amendment states that “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury…”

Some states, such as Connecticut, Washington, and Michigan, do not use county or state grand juries.  Fitzpatrick and others have found over the last five years that an average citizen cannot approach a federal grand jury with evidence of a crime unless the prosecutor with oversight responsibility allows it.

Fitzpatrick is planning to return to the McMinn County courthouse on business on Tuesday.

“Jeff Cunningham is not a juror,” he said, referring to a brief filed by Tennessee Deputy Attorney General Kyle Hixson in a case Fitzpatrick has on appeal.  In that document, for the first time, the state of Tennessee admitted that grand jury foremen are not jurors and therefore not subject to the same random-selection process mandated by Tennessee code.  Fitzpatrick learned of the existence of the brief on November 21, when his attorney, Van Irion, argued before the appellate panel that the grand jury foreman at the time of Fitzpatrick’s indictment had exceeded her proper term of service.

Previously, the county criminal courts, which operate illegally in and of themselves by having disregarded a set of 1984 laws ordering them to unify into district criminal courts, claimed that the grand jury foreman was a juror.  In June 2010, Fitzpatrick and Darren Wesley Huff were charged with “intimidating a juror,” which referred to then-Monroe County grand jury foreman Gary Pettway.

Now, however, the state of Tennessee has affirmed that the grand jury foreman is not a juror.  Pettway himself had said, “I work for the state,” not the citizens of the county.

“This will be my seventh attempt tomorrow, and Cunningham has run interference six times.  Before November 21, 2013, I thought that Jeff Cunningham was a juror, because the state of Tennessee had said that he was,” Fitzpatrick said.

Cunningham is a licensed attorney, bank executive, and current active member of the Tennessee Bar Association with an interest in “criminal prosecution.”  A phone call made to the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility by The Post & Email at least two weeks ago asking how an attorney could serve as grand jury foreman in any county was not returned.

“The foreman in the grand jury forever has not been a juror, and the state has always known that.  They have been abusing me and locking me up and beating me up because they didn’t want that little secret exposed.  In the process of doing these things to me, they have maintained as a lie that the grand jury foreman is a juror.  They tried to make every excuse…On the 21st of November, I found out that Jeff Cunningham is a civilian like everyone else,” Fitzpatrick said.

He continued:

It was absolutely essential that I challenged Jeff Cunningham at the first opportunity after I learned about his illegality and masquerading, which occurred in 2o13.  Cunningham swatted me away that day; he took my complaint into the December group.  I don’t know what happened to it when he went into the room.  I waited there for four hours, and at the end of the four hours, he came out and said, “Go home; leave.  We’re not going to hear your complaint.”  That paperwork never came back out again.  I didn’t get my petition back; all I got was a verbal dismissal from Jeff Cunningham, and I could tell that he was really upset.

In December, I realized that Jeff Cunningham had been in front of the group of people from 2013 for an entire year. I knew that he already had them under his spell and they would do whatever he told them to do.  “Go stand on your heads in a corner…” and they would try to stand on their heads in a corner because “Jeff said so.”

[Editor’s Note:  In August 2012, Judy Walton of The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported that two members of the McMinn County grand jury reported undue influence by then-grand jury foreman Joel Riley and Assistant District Attorney General Paul D. Rush in a case concerning current McMinn County Sheriff Joe Guy, one of the individuals Fitzpatrick named in his criminal complaint.]

When January came around, I knew that it would be a group of brand-new people.  On the third Tuesday in January – the day that Cunningham brought in the cookies – he unilaterally blocked me from going in to meet with the grand jurors.  He didn’t take my petition; he would not accept it.  In the past, he would take in the application and have them read through it.  He wouldn’t do it in January.  The people who showed up that day had no idea that I was even there unless they saw me when they walked in.  They didn’t talk to me.

Cunningham knew that if he gave that report to the January group, they would be reading about it for the first time, and they would be reading about a stranger, Jeff Cunningham, who they had just met that day as the foreman.  Cunningham could not allow that to happen.

Now he’s acting on his own, and Tennessee state law says that the screening process for anyone who comes in with a petition must include the foreman and two other people.  That process says that the foreman is to pick two other people from the grand jury.  So the foreman is the gate guard, and once you leave, the foreman controls the other two people.  I knew Jeff Cunningham was running scared in January.  When he saw me, I knew…he would not allow anybody to read my request that day.

I still have the sealed envelope from January.

I could see he was panicked, and he was trying to keep anyone from that grand jury room from seeing me or knowing about me or why I was there.  In January, I did not have my great big sign that said, “Jeff Cunningham is not a juror.”

When I came back in February, I knew he would be frantic to see me coming.  Every time Cunningham sends me away, he thinks I won’t be back the following month, and then I come back the following month.  So Cunningham thought that he was free and clear in January.  We’ve been told that they pick two grand juries in McMinn County and the other counties in the Tenth Judicial District.  So I knew that there would be another fresh group of people coming in February, so I came in then.  Before I went in in February, I attempted to get a protection order against Cunningham because I was pushing this guy into a corner; he’s a dangerous animal, and when you corner an animal, it gets really dangerous.

In his February filing, Fitzpatrick stated, in part, “I, Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III, United States Navy retired, have personal knowledge and proof that individuals named above and others have committed offenses in McMinn County.  I make application to testify before the McMinn County grand
jury regarding my knowledge and proofs (TCA 40-12-105)…”

So Cunningham’s reaction in February was foreseeable and foreseen.  I expected him to do something bizarre.  So I went into the court the week before and asked for a protection order.  I got it back within a matter of hours, and Judge Jeri Bryant said, “No, you don’t have the proper relationship with this person to get one.”

These petitions come under a domestic violence statute, and when I went searching the internet to find the proper way to request a restraining order, I found that this is the only statute that deals with that concept of getting protected from someone who is issuing a threat.  The statute is written so that it almost always involves a relative or someone with whom you’ve had a familiar relationship.  There’s a list of items to check…”Have you dated this person?” “Are you related to this person?” and then you get down to the bottom of the list and it says “Other” and it gives you a couple of blanks that can be filled in.  So I checked “Other.”  One of the boxes is “Stalking.”

So I filled it out and submitted it, and Jeri Bryant said “Denied.”  Her position was that a proper relationship between him and me had not been established.  Clerk Rhonda Cooley came out and said that it was pretty-much a domestic violence-type document.

Then I went in on Tuesday, February 18, 2014, and what happened?  Jeff Cunningham threatened me with physical violence.  I didn’t approach him; he approached me. I know now I have no business with this man whatsoever; none.  He’s a civilian.  He has no standing to have me arrested.

So I was sitting on the bench and he summoned me, and I stood up and walked toward him.  McMinn County Sgt. George was standing there, and he was armed.

I didn’t know if I was going back to the courthouse again in March or not.  I decided that I would go in, so it was appropriate for me to again request a protection order against Cunningham, because I knew how he was going to react:  he might try to have me arrested.  He has no standing in that grand jury, but he has threatened me.  You’ve seen the two pages that I wrote and submitted on Wednesday, March 12, last week.  In this second attempt for a protection order, I identified Cunningham as someone who is stalking me, and I did that because I did not approach him last month; he approached me.

I was trying to get my packet in through the assistant district attorney, Steve Morgan, who shows up at the grand jury hearings.  The reason I’m not interested in approaching Cunningham is that I have no business with him.  He has no business with me.  Jeff Cunningham is a licensed attorney, and he knows all of this already.

So I took in the information, and he blocked me.  He did it unilaterally in January, and he did it all by himself in February, because he didn’t want anybody else in these two brand-new groups to read anything I brought in.  He’s not allowed to act on his own authority; he’s required by state law to present the information and have them vote.

If I had gotten in front of the three, including Jeff Cunningham, I would have said, “He can’t be here.  You’re going to have to get one other person from the grand jury to hear this, because he’s named in the complaint.”  He cannot be the guy who has anything to do with my submission because he’s named in the complaint.

Last month, I waited for an hour after Cunningham ignored me last month and left.

On Wednesday, I submitted the second restraining order, and they said, “Call back on Thursday afternoon,” and they didn’t have a status for me.

Fitzpatrick was told by Cooley late last week that in an unusual move, his petition had been sent to Nashville for adjudication. “No judge in this area wants to deal with it,” Fitzpatrick said.  Cooley informed Fitzpatrick that “Normally speaking, the Chancery Court deals with protection orders.  If it’s not the chancery court, it goes to the circuit court judges in Cleveland, TN.”  “She said that they didn’t want to hear it, either,” Fitzpatrick told us.  “They sent it out of the area.”

Late Monday afternoon, Cooley informed Fitzpatrick that Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood had denied his request for a protection order against Cunningham.  Blackwood had presided over Fitzpatrick’s December 1, 2010 trial for several charges, including “intimidating a juror” identified as then-grand jury foreman Gary Pettway.

But now, the state of Tennessee says that Pettway never was a juror.

“Blackwood had no business ruling on my restraining order request” because of a “major conflict of interest,” Fitzpatrick told The Post & Email.

Will Cunningham order Fitzpatrick arrested on Tuesday simply for being in the courthouse?


This post was updated on March 18, 2014 at 7:55 a.m. EDT.

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  1. Ms. Rondeau
    Mr. Fitzpatrick

    What do you say about trying one of these tactics:

    #1) Wear a very large sandwich board in the courthouse, situated where the grand jurors will see it as they pass into the jury room. On it you would print your website.

    #2) What is the possibility some jurors are already reading your website ? I know that trial jurors are not supposed to research a case on their own. But in the grand jury, isn’t it the case that jurors enter with a blank slate. They aren’t there on a specific case. Therefore, why cannot they look up your website ?

    Best Wishes,

    Anton Critser