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by Sharon Rondeau

As in southeast Tennessee, counties in the western part of the state have also experienced judicial reappointment of the grand jury foreman over years and decades without any type of vetting

(Jun. 11, 2014) — More than three years ago, Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III subpoenaed several Tennessee judges to provide copies of any appointing orders for grand jury foremen they had signed over the course of their respective careers.

Grand juries are mentioned only in our founding documents only in the Fifth Amendment to the Bill of Rights and were intended to provide a check on overzealous government prosecutors’ actions against the citizenry.

One of the judges Fitzpatrick contacted was Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood, who is presiding over a case brought against Fitzpatrick in McMinn County, TN scheduled for trial on June 23.

Neither Blackwood nor his administrative assistant provided the requested documents at the time.  However, Fitzpatrick persevered in seeking the appointing orders and recently received groups of documents from Fayette and Hardeman Counties, where Blackwood presided during the 1980s.

Numerous requests for the same documents sent to Bradley County, which is part of the Tenth Judicial District currently prosecuting Fitzpatrick on allegations of harassment, stalking, aggravated perjury and extortion, have never received a response.

Judges Amy Armstrong Reedy and Carroll Lee Ross have regularly presided over criminal cases throughout the Tenth District.  Reedy has held office since 2006 and Ross considerably longer.  Prior to 2006, now-former District Attorney General R. Steven Bebb was a criminal court judge from 1982 to 2005.

Fitzpatrick’s attorney has asked that the Tenth District recuse itself from prosecuting the current case because of its being “vindictive” in nature based on Fitzpatrick’s history of exposing judicial corruption within it.

In late 2012, Fitzpatrick acquired the sole grand jury foreman appointing order on file with the Monroe County Criminal Court between 1985 and 2010.  The order, dated January 2011, indicated that Fay Tennyson replaced 28-year grand jury foreman Gary Pettway, who had worked without an appointing order or any evidence that he had ever been sworn in between 1982 and 2010.

The appointing order for Tennyson was signed by Judge Amy Reedy.  In October 2012, Tennyson was described as being in her mid-80s and unaware of her responsibilities as grand jury foreman.

In Roane County, a judge was found to have failed to take the oath of office, a violation of law which the defendant, Rocky Joe Houston, said The Knoxville News Sentinel “refused to print.”

Houston told The Post & Email in August 2010 that several judges ignored subpoenas issued in his own defense after Blackwood dismissed his attorney.  “It’s a criminal enterprise,” he told us.  “They don’t want anybody coming through and interfering with their money flow.”

Fitzpatrick had attempted to effect a citizen’s arrest on Pettway on April 1, 2010 for over-serving his term and thereby violating state code.  Instead, Fitzpatrick was ordered arrested by Ross and was jailed for five days.   “It’s not about the arrest of Gary Pettway,” Fitzpatrick said at the time, “it’s about the grand jury.”

A law passed in 2007 which took effect in 2008 states that jurors in Tennessee cannot serve consecutive terms, with terms of service mandated to be at least 24 months apart.

Before entering the courtroom to carry out the citizen’s arrest, Fitzpatrick had spoken in person with the Madisonville Chief of Police, Gregg Breeden, who appeared nonchalant when told that Pettway’s continual presence on the grand jury was a violation of law.  Fitzpatrick also provided a notice to Breeden and others that a citizen’s arrest would have to be made to stop the illicit practice of using the same grand jury foreman term after term.

A witness to the citizen’s arrest noted that local officials were “turning a blind eye” to the grand jury corruption and opined that it was allowed to continue “for monetary reasons.”

While in the Monroe County jail in the fall of 2010, Fitzpatrick observed Pettway entering the “booking room to interrogate inmates about alleged crimes all by himself.”  When The Post & Email asked Fitzpatrick as to what Pettway’s motive might have been in questioning inmates, he responded, “They’re feeding on the local community to send as many innocent people to the grand jury and then to the judiciary…This is a profit center…They’re feeding on the people…”

In Roane County, Charles Snow served as grand jury foreman for at least 23 years and may still be serving.  Blackwood had worked in Roane County before his official retirement in 2004.  As a Senior (retired) Judge, Blackwood is called upon to preside over cases where incumbent judges may be compromised or for other reasons unable to hear a particular case.

Blackwood presided over Houston’s case and, as reported by The Knoxville News Sentinel, “ordered Houston to represent himself” in March 2010.  Blackwood issued the same order to Fitzpatrick in December 2010.

Blackwood allowed the consecutive terms of a juror named “Angela Davis” to stand after Fitzpatrick objected, citing TCA 22-2-314, although Blackwood claimed that there was “no proof” that it was the same person.  Court records maintained by the clerk would have revealed whether or not the same “Angela Davis” had served two consecutive terms in violation of TCA 22-2-314.

Davis was hand-picked by Reedy to serve as the foreman for the day on which evidence against Fitzpatrick was to be presented, on June 3, 2010.  Fitzpatrick stated that because of the grand jury members’ prejudice, a new grand jury should have been empaneled to review the case against him.

Davis signed the indictments charging Fitzpatrick with four crimes after the citizen’s arrest on April 1, 2010 despite the fact that she was serving a second consecutive term as a juror and was compromised, having knowledge of Fitzpatrick and Pettway.

Fitzpatrick had further characterized Blackwood’s behavior:

Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood stated that he recognized that there are two people on the 2010 grand jury in Monroe County who are not supposed to be there.  He recognized that one of those people signed out the document that was the accusation laid against me:  Angela Davis.  He said, “We understand that she’s not lawfully on the grand jury.”  And he said, “I know about Pettway and I know about Davis, but I believe that the rest of the grand jury was acting appropriately, and we’re going to rely upon the work product of the rest of the grand jury, not these two people who are here unlawfully.  We’re going to look past that for a moment and press ahead.”  That’s why he assigned a trial date of 1 December.  So according to him, it was good enough; “Yeah, yeah, those two people aren’t supposed to be there, and certainly not Davis, because she was on a jury last year, but OK, we’re going to look past that and say that the rest of the jury was put together OK, and we’re going to rely on what they decided.  We’re going to trial.”

Because Blackwood did not “repair” the grand jury, Fitzpatrick said that Blackwood “is himself participating in the stacking of the jury.”

As a result of Fitzpatrick’s attempted arrest of Pettway, he was charged with “intimidating a juror” and three other crimes.  However, in September of last year, while presenting its case to an appellate panel that a conviction against Fitzpatrick should be upheld, the Tennessee Attorney General’s office stated in a court brief that the grand jury foreman is not chosen in the same way as the other grand jurors, but rather, appointed by the criminal court judge.  Deputy Attorney General Kyle Hixson insisted that Fitzpatrick “misapprehends” the law as it speaks to the grand jury foreman.

There is nothing in Tennessee code which allows for the creation of a position titled “grand jury foreman” by the judicial branch.

In decades past, some judges indicated on the grand jury appointing orders that the foreman was first qualified to serve “as a juror under the laws of this State.”  Reedy, Blackwood, and former Judge and District Attorney General Steve Bebb signed appointing orders which claimed only that the foreman was “well-qualified for said position.”

Ross had told Fitzpatrick at an arraignment hearing on June 28, 2010 that he was not permitted to “ask questions” or perform due diligence inside the courthouse in his own defense.  “Gary Pettway is doing a great job for us,” Ross had added, stating that he would continue to reappoint him “for 50 years” if he so chose, a comment which did not appear in the typed court transcript.

On November 1, 2010, while jailed and awaiting trial on the four charges stemming from the citizen’s arrest, Fitzpatrick called Blackwood “a dictator,” after which Blackwood told Fitzpatrick that he would not be permitted to ask questions about the construction of the grand jury during the hearing.  When Fitzpatrick asked Blackwood if a transcript of the hearing would be produced, Blackwood replied, “Maybe.”  “The judges are rigging the juries,” Fitzpatrick had relayed to The Post & Email from the Monroe County jail.  “This trial is being rigged right now…They’ve been doing this so long, and they’re so practiced at it.”

It was reported at that time that citizens of Monroe County admitted to being “terrified” of local police, the county sheriff and his deputies, and “the judges.”

Fitzpatrick has called the Tenth Judicial District’s court system “the dictatorship of the judiciary.”

On October 5, 2010, while presiding over Fitzpatrick’s case from the citizen’s arrest, Blackwood said in open court that “the grand jury foreman is no different than any other member of the grand jury.”  The appointing orders he signed, however, tell a different story.

In some cases, the grand jury foreman appointee was referred to as “the Honorable,” as if he were a judge:

Fitzpatrick has referred to the longstanding grand jury foremen in Tennessee as “judge advocates.”

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  1. Citizens are terrified there. There are many good things in Tennessee and good people but the door for corruption to take advantage of them is wide open. My sister and her husband lived in Tennessee for one year after he retired from the Army. They left after one year and couldn’t stand it. It is sad that the few have ruined it for the masses.