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IS THERE A GRAND JURY IN TENNESSEE WHICH OPERATES LEGALLY?
by Sharon Rondeau
(Mar. 19, 2014) — On Tuesday, Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III, USN-Ret., was arrested while visiting the McMinn County, TN courthouse to advance criminal charges against the grand jury foreman and other public officials.
The foreman, Jeff Cunningham, is a Tennessee attorney and active member of the Bar Association and had prohibited Fitzpatrick’s previous complaints from reaching the grand jury on six other occasions beginning in late 2012.
On one of those occasions, Cunningham read the charges Fitzpatrick submitted to the members of the grand jury, then reported back to Fitzpatrick that they had refused to review the evidence further.
By law, grand juries must be populated with 13 people chosen randomly from the community and screened as eligible to serve.
However, grand juries in eastern Tennessee, and perhaps the entire state, comprise 12 randomly-selected members and a foreman who is judicially-selected, often for multiple consecutive terms.
Although Rule 6 of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure state that the grand jury foreman must “possess all the qualifications of a juror,” judges have been allowed to choose their own foreman by an unstated vetting method for decades. Consequently, the foreman works for the judge(s) and not on behalf of those accused of crimes. The Fifth Amendment to the Bill of Rights 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…”
According to the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference, a grand jury comprises 13 citizens, one of whom becomes the foreman “and will preside over the grand jury.” There exists no law which allows a judge to appoint a foreman of his or her own choosing from outside of the jury panel, or those who have been chosen randomly and screened for eligibility to serve.
Several states have eliminated county or state grand juries, instead utilizing the “information” method to charge a person with a crime rather than a grand jury indictment.
In 2012, Fitzpatrick discovered, while reading through Tennessee Code, that county criminal courts were legislated away in 1984 in favor of district criminal courts which were never implemented.
Tennessee county court clerks and prosecutors have represented to the citizens and the randomly-selected jurors that the foreman is a member of the grand jury. However, a brief filed by the state deputy attorney general in a case Fitzpatrick appealed contends that the foreman has never been considered a member of the grand jury, and therefore can continue to be chosen by the unknown vetting method of the criminal court judges.
Therefore, state law mandates that the foreman be a juror, but the judges and attorney general’s office have determined that he is not a juror, and the two positions have not been reconciled.
Tennessee is known for its systemic corruption, which permeates the legislature, judicial system, sheriffs’ and police departments, Tennessee Highway Patrol, and local FBI departments.
Article 1, Section 8 of the Tennessee Constitution states:
That no man shall be taken and imprisoned, or disseized of his freehold, liberties or privileges, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any manner destroyed or deprived of his life, liberty or property, but by the judgment of his peers, or the law of the land.
Historically, grand juries routinely investigated reports of public corruption, but because grand juries have become tools for the prosecution, there is very little, if any, oversight of an out-of-control judicial, executive or legislative branch of government. The overtaking or loss of the grand jury system has resulted in untold thousands or even millions of people becoming incarcerated without proper Fifth Amendment due process.
The United States incarcerates a high percentage of its citizens as compared to other Western nations.
Tennessee law states that all criminal defendants have a right to challenge the status of any juror:
On Tuesday, Fitzpatrick brought the following evidence packet to the courthouse in light of the attorney general’s clarification that Cunningham, and all grand jury foremen in the state, are not jurors, yet work under the pretense that they are.
On Wednesday morning, The Post & Email contacted the McMinn County courthouse and obtained the indictments issued against Fitzpatrick.
While Fitzpatrick’s criminal complaints were not admitted to the grand jury, Cunningham’s were. Signing the indictments was District Attorney General R. Steven Bebb, who is reportedly under scrutiny by the Tennessee General Assembly for possible removal from his post as a result of complaints of corruption, although the state attorney general did not find the allegations worthy of Bebb’s removal last year.
On Monday, Fitzpatrick had told The Post & Email that he wanted Cunningham to “stay away” from him. In February and again in March, Fitzpatrick filed requests for an order of protection against Cunningham, both of which were denied by different judges.
Fitzpatrick filed a complaint with the Tennessee Bar Association against Cunningham for violating his oath of service as an attorney as a result of his serving as the McMinn County grand jury foreman. Cunningham is also a local bank executive.
Both Bebb and Cunningham are named in Fitzpatrick’s complaint. Cunningham did not sign Tuesday’s indictments as grand jury foreman.
Fitzpatrick has pointed out that a judge could never appoint a trial jury foreman, as it would immediately be seen as undue influence on the jury.