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by Sharon Rondeau
(Apr. 27, 2014) — In Friday’s edition of The Daily Post-Athenian, an advertisement apparently taken out by two local attorneys claimed in bullet-point fashion that Criminal Court Judge candidate Van Irion was “not qualified” because his law office is located in Knoxville rather than within the Tenth Judicial District, where he seeks the judgeship now held by Amy Armstrong Reedy.
The district comprises the four counties of Bradley, Polk, McMinn and Monroe. McMinn County is the location of the historic “Battle of Athens,” where returning World War II veterans drove a corrupt sheriff and several deputies from the county after they carried out election-rigging and voter intimidation during the August 1946 election.
Tennessee is known as one of, if not the most, corrupt state in the nation. As in 1946, the U.S. Department of Justice has refused to intervene in the routine denial of civil and constitutional rights which Tennessee elected officials mete out on the population they allegedly serve.
Reedy is a Democrat and not involved in the primary, which began on Friday and ends on Tuesday, May 6. Irion’s primary opponent is Sandra Donaghy, a deputy district attorney general in the Seventh Judicial District.
The Post-Athenian does not publish on Saturday or Sunday.
The two attorneys, Biddle and Trew, stated correctly that Irion had unsuccessfully run for a seat in the U.S. Congress in 2010. Irion had run on a platform of opposing Obamacare, whose implementation many Americans, including congressmen facing re-election this year, now regret. “It’s going to hit the fan,” said Democrat Rep. Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts recently. “The problem has always been paying for it,” Lynch then said of the alleged “31,000,000” people who will benefit from Obamacare.
Irion is founder of Liberty Legal Foundation, which challenged the constitutionality of Obamacare and concluded that the federal and U.S. Supreme Courts no longer uphold constitutional principles, including limits on congressional power.
Irion had described the 2010 elections as an opportunity to win “this generation’s new revolution.” “We’re going to take back our government from the liberals in DC who are trying to create a new Soviet Union right here in the United States,” Irion had said. However, trial attorney Chuck Fleischmann won the primary against several Republican contenders and is now the U.S. congressman for Tennessee’s Third Congressional District.
According to The Chattanoogan, Irion is a “constitutional expert” sought out for several appearances on the Fox News Channel. Irion’s biography at The Chattanoogan, which appears to be identical to that which appears on his campaign website, states that he has “handled criminal and civil cases in Tennessee’s Family courts, Juvenile courts, Sessions courts, Circuit courts, Chancery courts, Criminal Court of Appeals and Civil Court of Appeals.” He was also an adjunct professor of law at the University of Tennessee’s law school.
Irion’s biographical information contradicts the claim made by Biddle and Trew in regard to his criminal law experience.
In February, Irion spoke at a meeting sponsored by the TEA Party of Southeast Tennessee about expediting cases of those temporarily “locked up” in county jails, among other topics.
As stated by Trew and Biddle, Irion is defending CDR Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III (Ret.), although not in one case, but two. The first arose after Fitzpatrick took documents from the courthouse showing jury-tampering by Reedy, intended to be turned in to the local office of the FBI. Instead, Fitzpatrick was charged with “tampering with government documents.” Irion was not allowed to present a defense in court and appealed the conviction to the Tennessee Court of Appeals in Knoxville.
At the hearing for that case last fall, the prosecution, in the form of Tennessee Attorney General Robert E. Cooper, Jr., stated that the foreman of the grand jury “is not a juror” and is selected by the judge at his or her discretion, a practice which defies Tennessee state code.
Fitzpatrick’s second case arose last month when, as he was sitting on a bench reading a book on the upper floor of the McMinn County courthouse with evidence to present to the grand jury, he was arrested. Just prior to the arrest, Reedy had picked a new grand jury foreman, her third in 2014. Minutes after Thomas Balkom was purportedly sworn in as the new grand jury foreman, Fitzpatrick was handcuffed, charged with intimidating the former grand jury foreman, Jeffrey Cunningham, without any evidence.
Between April 1, 2010 and February 9, 2012, Fitzpatrick was jailed a total of five times by the Monroe County criminal court after he demonstrated that the grand jury foreman had served for at least two decades without an appointing order or any evidence that he had ever been sworn in.
Fitzpatrick has named Reedy, District Attorney General R. Steven Bebb, and other criminal court judges within the Tenth Judicial District as “criminals” for rigging juries and thereby denying criminal defendants of their Fifth Amendment rights. “This is the way we do it in Tennessee,” a court clerk told The Post & Email several years ago.
Bebb was accused of misconduct but exonerated of criminal wrongdoing by the Tennessee Attorney General last year. However, the legislature took further steps to remove him from his post during the current legislative session because of constituent complaints. Subsequently, the state board which oversees attorneys cleared him of ethics charges, after which Bebb announced he would not seek re-election in August.
In 2010 and while still running for Congress, Irion stated that The Chattanooga Times Free Press had published interviews with all of the Republican primary contenders, with his being “the most negative.” At the time, Irion had predicted that “Race to the Top,” which preceded the Common Core state curriculum, would lead to federal control of students’ history classes. Irion stated that his predictions about Common Core have been borne out but that the newspaper “wouldn’t print a correction or a follow-up interview or anything like that.”
Judy Walton of The Chattanooga Times Free press recently hung up on Fitzpatrick when he called her to report a local issue, and it was not the first time. Walton has reported on allegations of misconduct against District Attorney General R. Steven Bebb but has not been willing to investigate the corruption of local judges and grand juries which have placed an unknown number of people in jails and prisons without constitutional protections.
Irion considers himself as dedicated to the Constitution. At 8:18 in the February Tea Party video, Irion stated that Fitzpatrick’s case “led me to realizing that the last thing that’s left to us is trying to fix the local governments, and what I can do with my law degree as a constitutionalist is get into the court system as a judge.”
Biddle and Trew find fault with Irion’s statement that he would examine whether or not a law is “constitutional” and make a decision based on that before proceeding against a defendant. “We, like most attorneys, recognize that such action by any Judge to declare a state statute unconstitutional on his own Motion without affording the Tennessee State Attorney General’s office an opportunity to address the issue is contrary to established law.”
According to the U.S. Constitution, however, the role of the courts is to examine whether or not a law is constitutional, not a state attorney general.
At 14:40 in his February presentation, Irion alluded to “those occasional cases that come down that should not be there in the first place.” He said the reason judges are necessary is to determine whether or not a law passed by the legislature might be “blatantly unconstitutional.” “The judicial branch is supposed to be a check on the legislature,” he added.
Regarding his experience, Irion told the group, “I’ve handled jury trials, criminal and civil; I’ve handled appeals; I’ve litigated cases all the way to the Supreme Court – Tennessee Supreme Court, United States Supreme Court…” (13:25).
Irion’s primary opponent, Sandra Donaghy, has worked for 30 years cumulatively as a judge, assistant district attorney, public defender and private attorney. “I have personally conducted 197 jury trials,” Donaghy states on her campaign website.
In the same edition of The Post-Athenian, Donaghy ran the following advertisement:
While Donaghy states that she wishes to “restore dignity and confidence in the Criminal Court system of the 10th Judicial District,’ as an assistant district attorney, she has prosecuted those indicted by illegally-formed grand juries without attempting to change the corrupt system. While none of the 197 cases she said she has tried has reportedly been reversed on appeal, none were issued indictments by a constitutionally-sanctioned grand jury.
Like Trew and Biddle, Donaghy considers it a shortcoming that Irion “NEVER had a law office in our 10th Judicial District.” Donaghy similarly claims that Irion has “never” voted in an election in the Tenth Judicial District. Both Donaghy’s campaign and the two law partners used bullet points to illustrate their claims.
Donaghy supporter Samuel K. Lee, identified as a “former prosecutor in Anderson and Knox counties, current criminal defense lawyer practicing throughout East Tennessee,” states that Donaghy is “tailor made to serve as Criminal Court Judge in the 10th judicial district.”
Irion’s advertisement in the same edition of The Post-Athenian appears as follows: