“WHAT IF COMMANDER FITZPATRICK IS RIGHT?”
by Sharon Rondeau
(Jun. 10, 2014) — As reported by The Post & Email on Monday evening via The Daily Post-Athenian, District Attorney General Robert Steven Bebb for Tennessee’s Tenth Judicial District resigned from his post nearly three months before he was set to leave office.
The Post-Athenian’s article cited the AP and used much of the same wording from the AP’s article published in The Washington Times dated Saturday, June 7, indicating that Bebb resigned on Friday.
The Tenth Judicial District comprises McMinn, Monroe, Polk, and Bradley Counties in southeastern Tennessee, which is known for systemic, longstanding corruption, particularly in the courts. McMinn County is the location of the 1946 “Battle of Athens,” where a group of World War II veterans caused the physical ouster of a corrupt sheriff and several of his deputies as a result of their rigging of local elections.
On March 18, 2014, Bebb signed a presentment issued by the McMinn County grand jury charging CDR Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III (Ret.) with aggravated perjury, harassment, stalking and extortion of the previous grand jury foreman, Jeffrey Cunningham. Fitzpatrick was jailed until he was able to post bond on March 28.
To date, the state has not specified on which dates or times the crimes allegedly occurred. One of Bebb’s deputy prosecutors, A. Wayne Carter, wrote in his Bill of Particulars filed on May 23 that “the state intends to rely on a Petition for Order of Protection and Order for Hearing the defendant sought on the day in question” and “the state intends to rely on actions by the defendant that include, but not limited to [sic], the actions of defendant reflected in his petitions to appear before the McMinn County, Tennessee Grand Jury, his publications, acts, and allegations that relate to Jeff Cunningham.”
Carter and another deputy prosecutor, Steve Morgan, have been subpoenaed to testify at a hearing on June 16 to determine whether or not the Tenth Judicial District should prosecute the case, as Fitzpatrick’s attorney, Van Irion, has contended that the district is pursuing a “vindictive prosecution” against Fitzpatrick.
On Thursday, Carter filed a Motion to Quash the approximately two dozen subpoenas requested by Irion through the court and delivered by sheriff’s deputies last week.
In a hearing on Monday, Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood, who is presiding over the latest Fitzpatrick case, upheld all but two of the subpoenas, which include grand jury members, the three grand jury foremen appointed this year by Judge Amy Reedy, Carter and Morgan, among others. The hearing was moved to the second-floor main criminal courtroom instead of the Chancery Courtroom, where it had originally been scheduled to take place, because of the number of attendees.
Blackwood, who officially retired in 2004, was the presiding judge in previous cases in which Fitzpatrick exposed criminality on the part of judges, court clerks, and grand jury foremen in the district, and at one time had denied Fitzpatrick his constitutional right to an attorney. Blackwood had also said that evidence that a juror had served two consecutive terms in violation of law was not “proof,” although records are maintained by court clerks of all jury members for a number of years.
State law mandates that jurors be selected by “automated means” so as to prevent the possibility of human intervention.
At a jury trial in a case which arose after Fitzpatrick attempted to arrest Monroe County grand jury foreman Gary Pettway in 2010, Blackwood dismissed a juror after Fitzpatrick, who defended himself, asked all of the jurors if they had served on a jury in Tennessee during a previous term, to which one juror answered in the affirmative.
Fitzpatrick had arrested Pettway for serving 28 years consecutively in violation of state code. In the indictments issued by the Monroe County grand jury, Pettway was referred to as “a juror,” although the Tennessee Attorney General’s office now contends that the grand jury foreman “is not a juror.”
In February, Blackwood denied Fitzpatrick a restraining order against Cunningham, who had threatened Fitzpatrick with arrest if he were to attempt to submit further evidence to the grand jury. Fitzpatrick’s submissions named Cunningham as a criminal, along with Reedy, Bebb and other “public servants” within the Tenth Judicial District.
In addition to Bebb’s resignation on Friday, McMinn County chief clerk Rhonda Cooley provided Fitzpatrick with grand jury appointing orders dating back to 1980 in response to an open records request he submitted the week prior. Cooley asked Fitzpatrick to sign a form acknowledging that he had received the documents responsive to his request, which he did.
Bebb served as a criminal court judge from 1982-2005 before being elected District Attorney General in 2006. During his tenure as judge, Bebb signed appointing orders naming Katherine Redfern as grand jury foreman to three different terms: April 20, 1993 to April 20, 1995; October 12, 1998 through October 12, 2000; and June 4, 2004. There is a gap in appointing orders between October 2000 and 2004.
After submitting a similar request in Monroe County in 2011, Fitzpatrick found that Pettway had served his entire 28 years as grand jury foreman without an appointing order or evidence that he was sworn in.
Martha M. Cook, chief court clerk in Monroe County, told a local newspaper in early 2010 that the judge can select the grand jury foreman “from wherever they choose.” Cook is one of two people whose subpoenas Blackwood quashed on Monday.
Fitzpatrick and Irion contend that state law does not allow for the special selection of any person to serve on a jury, prompting the attorney general’s opinion in “the Hixson brief” that the foreman “is not a juror.”
In August 2012, The Chattanooga Times Free Press ran a six-day series detailing allegations of criminality in Bebb’s office and the Drug Task Force, which Bebb headed. An investigation by the attorney general, state comptroller and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) reportedly did not find misconduct rising to the level of crimes. Dissatisfied constituents then went to their legislators, some of whom attempted to oust Bebb during the 2013-14 term. A formal complaint filed with the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsbility (BOPR) was dismissed earlier this year.
In its reportage of Bebb’s resignation, The Times Free Press stated that “While he was a popular and respected judge, Bebb’s tenure as district attorney was controversial.”
On April 6, Bebb was accused of assaulting and firing a female co-worker, who was quickly reinstated after the story became public.
At several times during the hearing, Irion posed the question to the government of, “What if Commander Fitzpatrick is right?”
The AP reported that Bebb “is retiring just two months before his term ends.”
Sharon Rondeau has operated The Post & Email since April 2010, focusing on the Obama birth certificate investigation and other government corruption news. She has reported prolifically on constitutional violations within Tennessee’s prison and judicial systems.