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FORMER FOREMAN, BANK PRESIDENT & CEO SCHEDULED TO TESTIFY ON MONDAY IN MCMINN COUNTY, TN
by Sharon Rondeau
(Jun. 15, 2014) — On Friday, an attorney for the employer of former McMinn County, TN grand jury foreman Jeffrey Cunningham filed a motion at the McMinn County courthouse to quash a subpoena upheld by Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood the previous Monday in the case of State of Tennessee v. Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III, 14-CR-69.
Cunningham was one of between 24 and 32 individuals subpoenaed by Fitzpatrick’s attorney, Van Irion, to testify at a June 16 hearing to determine whether or not Tennessee’s Tenth Judicial District, which includes McMinn County, should prosecute the case. Irion claimed in a filing in late May that his client is the subject of a “vindictive prosecution” and that if the state should decide to go forward with the case, a special prosecutor should be appointed.
Since 2009, Fitzpatrick has uncovered corruption which includes the Tenth Judicial District’s criminal courts, prosecutors, local police, county sheriffs and their deputies, court clerks, jailhouse staff, and court reporters. Deputy prosecutor A. Wayne Carter had petitioned the court to quash all of the subpoenas prior to last Monday’s hearing.
On March 18, the McMinn County grand jury issued a presentment accusing Fitzpatrick of stalking, harassment, extortion, and aggravated perjury beginning in January 2012 and culminating on March 12, 2014. Cunningham was the accuser who allegedly presented evidence to the grand jury of the crimes.
On that day, Fitzpatrick had been waiting on a bench outside of the grand jury room and clerk’s office for notification as to whether or not criminal evidence he had brought to be presented to the grand jury would be submitted to them. Fitzpatrick had tried on six previous occasions to submit similar evidence he alleged were committed by former District Attorney General R. Steven Bebb, who abruptly resigned his post on June 6; Judge Amy Armstrong Reedy, who Fitzpatrick observed hand-picking jurors in December 2011; Cunningham himself, for serving as grand jury foreman without informing the grand jurors that he was personally selected by Reedy in violation of state law; McMinn County Sheriff Joe Guy; and two deputy prosecutors, among others.
In February, Cunningham threatened to have Fitzpatrick arrested if he were to attempt to submit evidence of criminality to the grand jury again. Between November 2012 and March 2014, Cunningham refused each time to present Fitzpatrick’s evidence to the grand jury. One one occasion, he claimed that the grand jurors had “decided” that the evidence Fitzpatrick presented was outside of their purview. Cunningham also refused to recuse himself from considering the evidence or influencing the grand jury even though Fitzpatrick named him as a perpetrator.
Since grand jury deliberations are carried out “in secret,” it is unknown what evidence was used for the grand jurors to conclude that there was probable cause that Fitzpatrick committed the four crimes.
On March 4, Cunningham resigned as grand jury foreman. Reedy replaced him with Larry Wallace, who is also a Board member of AFCB. Wallace has a 40-year career in law enforcement, including as McMinn County Sheriff, Chattanooga Police Chief, director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), and an officer with the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
Bebb had signed the presentment accusing Fitzpatrick of the crimes on March 18. Prior to his election as District Attorney General in 2006, Bebb had served as a criminal court judge for 23 years in the same district, which in addition to McMinn, encompasses Monroe, Polk, and Bradley Counties.
In his subpoena to Cunningham, Irion requested that he “appear personally before the McMinn Criminal Court at the Courthouse, Chancery Courtroom in Athens, Tennessee, on June 16, 2014 at 10:00 AM, then and there to testify For Defendant in this matter and bring, if indicated the following: Duces Tecum: PRODUCE AND PERMIT INSPECTION OF THE FOLLOWING DOCUMENTS AND OBJECTS AT 9:00 AM ON JUNE 16, 2014 IN THE CHANCERY COURT FOR THE COUNTY OF MCMINN:
-ALL ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATIONS, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO TEXT MESSAGES, FACSIMILE TRANSMISSIONS, ELECTRONIC MAIL, AND INTERNET SERVICES; BETWEEN MR. CUNNIGHAM [SIC] AND ANY AGENT OR EMPLOYEE OF THE 10TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE, AND ANY AGENT OR EMPLOYEE OF THE MCMINN COUNTY COURT, AND ANY JUDGE OR CHANCELLOR FOR TENNESSEE’S 10TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT; WHICH REFER TO OR DISCUSS OR HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH WALTER FITZPATRICK IN ANY WAY.
Irion then requested documents naming “all companies” which facilitated such messages to or from Cunningham between January 2012 and April 2014.
On Monday, June 9, Blackwood quashed two subpoenas requested by Irion but upheld the remainder, including Cunningham’s. On Friday at 2:07 p.m., Attorney for Athens Bancshares Corporation and Athens Federal Community Bank filed his “Motion to Quash Subpoena,” claiming that Cunningham’s “compliance would be unreasonable, oppressive and unduly burdensome, and the Subpoena is an abuse of process as the information sought is immaterial to these Criminal proceedings.”
Tennessee criminal court judges have been allowed to hand-pick the grand jury foreman “from wherever they choose” and retain them for years, thereby infecting the grand jury’s deliberations with the state’s position.
Just before Fitzpatrick was arrested on March 18, Reedy appointed a new foreman, Thomas Balkom, from within the grand jury. Balkom is one of those subpoenaed for Monday.
The Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference defines 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.
Tennessee code similarly does not allow for the hand-picking of any member of either a grand jury or trial jury.
At 9:00 a.m. on Monday, the court will hold a hearing on the bank attorney’s Motion to Quash Subpoena. At 2:00 p.m., a hearing to determine who will prosecute the case will take place, to include testimony from those whose subpoenas were upheld by Blackwood last week.