If you're new here, you may want to subscribe to my free Email alerts. Thanks for visiting!
“YOU MAY WISH TO SEEK COMPETENT LEGAL ADVICE”
by Sharon Rondeau
(Apr. 28, 2014) — An incumbent criminal court judge running for re-election in Tennessee’s Tenth Judicial District has avoided The Post & Email’s questions regarding the appointment of grand jury foremen in which she has taken part for the last eight years, at a minimum.
Tennessee statutes mandate that jury members be chosen by random, automated means to prevent the chance of human intervention. In the Tenth District, however, judges select the grand jury foreman “from wherever they choose,” without a known vetting process. Some foremen have served for decades at the pleasure of the presiding judge.
The Tenth District includes the counties of Polk, Bradley, McMinn and Monroe.
Reedy has appointed various foremen into the McMinn County grand juries over her eight years in office whose “qualifications” are never made known, despite appointing orders which say they are “well-qualified for said position.” Over the last four years, The Post & Email has demonstrated that hand-picked foremen and jurors have tainted the judicial process in an area of the state known for its systemic public corruption.
Questionable decisions on the part of the McMinn County grand jury have been reported in local Tennessee media, as has claims of undue influence of a prosecutor on grand jury members not to indict McMinn County Sheriff Joe Guy.
In 2010, the Monroe County Criminal Court claimed that the grand jury foreman at the time, Gary Pettway was “a juror,” but last fall, the Tennessee Attorney General’s office stated in a court brief that the foreman is not and has never been “a juror,” as he or she is selected by the criminal court judge.
The statute defining “Investigative Grand Juries” states that the grand jury must contain 13 members and “up to five alternates.” In Reedy’s first response to The Post & Email, she attempted to differentiate between investigative grand juries and annually-empaneled grand juries. The statute reads:
40-12-206. Members Powers.
(a) The grand jury convened pursuant to this part shall consist of thirteen (13) members and up to five (5) alternates.
(b) The alternates shall be present at all times during grand jury proceedings, but shall not take part in the deliberations or vote of the grand jury unless the alternate has been made a regular member of the grand jury upon motion of the district attorney general made to the court and alleging that a regular member is no longer able to serve.
(c) Any grand jury ordered convened pursuant to this part shall be:
(1) Impaneled by the presiding judge in the same manner as the regular grand jury;
(2) Directed by the presiding judge to investigate the crimes specified in the petition; however, nothing in this subsection (c) shall be construed as preventing indictment for any offense found by the grand jury to have occurred in the course of its investigation; and
(3) Retain all powers, duties and responsibilities of the regular grand jury.
[Acts 1990, ch. 1051, § 1.]
Reedy was observed hand-selecting grand jury members other than the foreman on December 7, 2011.
On Saturday, The Post & Email asked Judge Amy Reedy why grand juries in the Tenth Judicial District comprise 12 grand jurors plus a court-appointed foreman when state code mandates that 13 grand jurors be chosen randomly, one of whom becomes the foreman.
The District Attorneys General Conference defines a grand jury in the same manner, although district attorneys general throughout the state are aware that the judges have been choosing their own foremen for years.
A 2008 statute, TCA 22-2-314, states that jurors may not serve consecutive terms, with a mandatory 24-month period required for a juror to again serve.
In 2014, President and CEO of Athens Federal Community Savings Bank in Athens, TN was serving his third consecutive term as McMinn County grand jury foreman, chosen by Reedy, when he reportedly resigned. Cunningham is also a licensed attorney and active member of the Tennessee Bar Association. Reedy then selected a close acquaintance of Cunningham’s through the bank’s board of directors and 40-year veteran of Tennessee law enforcement, Larry Wallace, to serve as foreman. A third foreman appointed in March took effect just minutes before the arrest of Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III, on March 18, while he was sitting on a bench in the courthouse reading a book.
The bench on which Fitzpatrick was seated has now been moved.
When The Post & Email asked where information on Wallace’s background could be found, we were told by two clerks that no “public information” was respectively available either in Reedy’s administrative office in Cleveland, TN or at the McMinn County courthouse.
Our second communication to Reedy, sent on Sunday evening reads:
Thank you for your response. I am a reporter and this is on the record, of course.
Why would regularly-impaneled grand juries not be constructed in the same manner as “investigative grand juries?”
The District Attorneys General Conference, while not quoting from a statute, describes a grand jury as:
a group of thirteen citizens chosen from the jury panel. One of these thirteen is the fore person and will preside over the grand jury.
Why, then, is the foreman chosen by the judge? Why is the foreman not chosen by the grand jurors themselves?
If a judge chose the foreman of a trial jury, there would be an obvious conflict of interest. Why is that not the same with the grand jury?
Does the foreman vote with the grand jurors? If so, it would seem that the state’s interests would be interjected into the deliberations of the grand jurors and could affect whether or not they issue an indictment.
What is the vetting process for a judicially-selected foreman, and by what statute is it permitted?
Sharon Rondeau, Editor
The Post & Email
Reedy’s response on Monday is as follows:
You may want to seek competent legal advice.
Judges cannot give legal advice.
Why the” District Attorneys General Conference” “describes” a Grand jury as they do would be a question for them and pure speculation on my part.
The rest of your questions call for legal advice or speculation on my part.
Statutes and Rules come with Advisory Comments and Opinions and are available for any Citizen to search or get legal advice about.