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“FROM WHEREVER THEY CHOOSE“
by Sharon Rondeau
(Apr. 8, 2014) — Earlier on Tuesday, The Post & Email inquired of the McMinn County, TN courthouse staff as to the background of the new grand jury foreman, Larry Wallace, who was appointed by Judge Amy Reedy upon the resignation of the previous foreman early last month.
A “Larry Wallace” reportedly residing in Athens, TN has 40 years of law enforcement experience; allegedly ran interference for former Vice President Al Gore when he was director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation; served as police chief of the city of Chattanooga and two terms as McMinn County sheriff; and was a Tennessee Highway Patrolman early in his career. The same man is Senior Vice President of Tennessee Wesleyan College.
The former grand jury foreman, Jeffrey Cunningham, is an attorney and president and CEO of Athens Federal Community Bank, which gave “a local charitable contribution” of $5,000 in January 2012 to Tennessee Wesleyan College “in honor of TWC Senior Vice President Larry Wallace.” Wallace also serves as “Chairman of Athens Bancshares Corporation and Athens Federal Community Bank.”
Cunningham reportedly resigned the foremanship on March 4, and Reedy appointed Wallace on the same day. The Post & Email sought to discover whether or not the new foreman is the Larry Wallace with the above-described biography or another man bearing the same name.
After sending our inquiry, which McMinn County deputy clerk Sherry Anderson insisted last week must be submitted in writing, Anderson informed The Post & Email that “The information you are requesting is information we are not privy to. Mr. Wallace was appointed by Judge Amy Reedy. I would suggest you contact her office.”
When we asked Anderson Reedy’s office number, we received no response. After performing a search and speaking with a clerk in Bradley County, which is part of the Tenth Judicial District in which Reedy works, we were given the number to Reedy’s administrative office in Cleveland, TN, where we left a voice message identifying ourselves and our query.
At approximately 3:30 p.m. EDT, we received a return call from the “trial assistant” to Judge Amy Reedy. “I’m actually the judge’s assistant,” she told us. When we asked her if she assisted any judges other than Reedy, she answered, “No.”
She then said that in regard to our question about Wallace’s background, “There is nothing in the judge’s office that is public information.” She told us that the McMinn County court should have Wallace’s oath of office on file and perhaps other information, although we informed her that we were told they had no background on Wallace.
When we asked how grand jury foremen are vetted, Judy responded, “I don’t know the answer to that one. An attorney could answer that.” We then related that in 2013, Davidson County grand jury foreman Eugene Grayer had been appointed despite a felony conviction on his record, to which Judy replied, “Oh, yes, there must be a law against that.”
We asked if a background check is performed on potential grand jury foremen and were told, “I don’t know who would run a background check.” After the district attorney in Davidson County discovered the felony conviction on Grayer’s record, he vowed to “start running background checks on grand jury foremen…”
In summary, Judy told us that there are “no records” concerning any grand jury foreman, who, according to Tennessee Deputy Attorney General for the Criminal Justice Division Kyle Hixson, is chosen by the judge and is not considered “a juror.”
Hixson’s assertion conflicts with Tennessee state code, which mandates grand juries to have 13 members, one of whom is chosen, presumably by the jurors themselves, to serve as foreman. Tennessee Criminal Court Rule 6(g)(2) states that a foreman must “possess all the qualifications of a juror,” which would mean that he or she would be vetted by the random selection process mandated by state law, then chosen blindly from the jury pool after proper screening for eligibility and conflict of interest.
However, for decades, Tennessee criminal court judges have brought in their own foreman “from wherever they choose,” despite the clear bias the person has as an employee of the judge and not a servant of the people.
Either as a result of a lack of education, understanding, ability to apply analytical skills, fear, or indifference, the citizens of Tennessee have not raised objections loudly enough to restore the courts to their constitutional duty of administering “justice.” Unknown hundreds or even thousands of people have been indicted and convicted in kangaroo courts as a result of grand jury foremen appointed by judges “from wherever they choose” instead of coming from the randomly-selected jury pool.
Trial juries have also been noted to have been populated with ineligible individuals and acquaintances of the judges.
Reedy is running for re-election as criminal court judge in November and is currently completing an eight-year term after her appointment by former Gov. Phil Bredesen.