HOW MANY GENERATIONS HAVE BEEN AFFECTED BY AN OUT-OF-CONTROL JUDICIARY?
by Sharon Rondeau
(Jun. 16, 2014) — Appointing orders obtained from various Tennessee courthouses show that criminal court judges have engaged in the practice of hand-selecting grand jury foremen for at least 34 years.
The Fifth Amendment to the Bill of Rights included the grand jury as a bulwark between an overzealous government prosecutor and the citizens he was expected to serve. As a result of congressional changes to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure in 1946, however, grand juries have largely become tools of the government by “rubber-stamping” evidence presented to them by a prosecutor. Whether at the county, state or federal level, grand juries rarely, if ever, initiate their own investigations today, including those of public officials, as they had previously.
The Fifth Amendment refers to two forms in which a grand jury could indicate that its members were convinced that probable cause existed to charge a defendant with a crime: the “indictment” and the “presentment.”
Historically, presentments arose from the grand jury without the involvement of a prosecutor, judge or attorney. Indictments are issued after a government agent provides information to the grand jury for its review.
The National Liberty Alliance has spearheaded an initiative to reconstitute the grand jury as the entity by which justice can be delivered and the people regain “control of their state government.”
Tennessee Code Annotated (TCA) contains a statute passed in 1990 allowing for the impaneling of an “investigative grand jury” which comprises 13 members chosen randomly, as stated in TCA 22-2-301. Typical grand juries, however, contain 12 individuals allegedly selected randomly plus the judicially-selected foreman with whom the judge is likely acquainted.
TCA 22-2-304 states that “the selection of names of prospective jurors to be summoned shall likewise be made by automated means in such a manner as to assure proportionate distribution of names selected without opportunity for the intervention of any human agency to select a particular name and in a manner that causes no prejudice to any person.”
In December 2009, CDR Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III (Ret.) discovered that the foreman of the Monroe County, TN grand jury had been acting in that capacity for at least 20 years, which was later revealed to have been 28 consecutive years. Gary Pettway was chosen through an unknown vetting process and allowed to serve without an appointing order or any evidence that he had ever taken an oath of office.
Citizens of Monroe County and surrounding counties have related to The Post & Email that they have been falsely accused, jailed, tried and convicted, beginning with the Monroe County grand jury’s indictment.
Conversely, a series of articles in The Chattanooga Times Free Press two summers ago alleging undue influence and misuse of funds in the Tenth Judicial District, which includes Monroe, McMinn, Polk and Bradley Counties, specifically named a deputy prosecutor and then-grand jury foreman Joe Riley as having used their authority to convince the McMinn County grand jury not to issue a “true bill,” or indictment, of McMinn County Sheriff Joe Guy.
Riley had been appointed grand jury foreman on five different occasions by three different judges between 2005 and December 2010. One of the judges, Carroll Lee Ross, had said in court in 2010 that he had “never appointed a grand jury foreman in McMinn County.” Ross is retiring in August.
TCA 22-2-314 prohibits a juror from serving consecutive terms. No exception is made for the grand jury foreman.
The Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference 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.” While the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure state that the judge can choose the foreman, they do not say that a judge may bring in a foreman “from wherever they choose,” as Monroe County Chief Court Clerk Martha M. Cook has contended. The judge is not expected to have “a friend” on the grand jury, nor to place a convicted felon in the position of grand jury foreman, as occurred in Davidson County in violation of TCA 22-1-102.
On December 1, 2010, Fitzpatrick defended himself against four charges stemming from is attempted arrest of Pettway on April 1 of that year. Before the trial began, in accordance with TCA 22-3-102, he challenged the jurors’ competency by asking if any had served on a jury in Tennessee within the past 24 months. When one person raised his hand, Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood dismissed the juror.
However, Blackwood did not question the indictments which gave rise to the trial even after Fitzpatrick pointed out that grand juror Angela Davis, who was elevated to foreman for one day on June 3, 2010 and signed the indictments against him, had served on a trial jury in 2009. Rather, Blackwood allowed the indictments and charges to stand. The indictments charged Fitzpatrick with “intimidating a juror,” referencing Pettway, although in 2013, the Tennessee Deputy Attorney General stated in a court brief that grand jury foremen are not jurors.
Blackwood is presiding over a new case against Fitzpatrick arising from a presentment issued by the McMinn County grand jury charging Fitzpatrick with extortion, aggravated perjury, stalking and harassment over a more-than-two-year period. It is unclear how the accuser, former McMinn County grand jury foreman Jeffrey Cunningham, compiled enough evidence against Fitzpatrick to convince the grand jury to issue its presentment on March 18, 2014.
The prosecutor who signed the presentment was former District Attorney General R. Steven Bebb, who promptly resigned from his post on Friday, June 6. Bebb had announced that he would not seek re-election in August and has reportedly applied for retirement benefits, a story which made national news at The Washington Times.
Bebb served as a criminal court judge from 1982 to 2005.
The local, state and national news media have taken virtually no notice of reports of criminality regarding the rigging of grand juries in Tennessee. Local reporters toe the government line and fail to question the judges as to which law allows the reappointment of grand jury foremen for years and decades. Cook’s statement that judges could choose a foreman “from wherever” is not supported by any state law.
In early August 1946, a group of World War II veterans became angered that elections in McMinn County were rigged by the sheriff’s office through confiscation of the ballot boxes, physical abuse and voter intimidation. Disgusted with the entrenched corruption, some of the veterans ran for office themselves. Overnight from August 1 to 2, the veterans fired shots at then-McMinn County Sheriff Pat Mansfield and his deputies, eventually running them out of the county.
The State of Tennessee describes The Battle of Athens as a “riot.” It also reports that in August 1946, “In the precincts free of voter fraud, the GI candidates…won the election by nearly 60%.”
Fitzpatrick, a 24-year veteran of the U.S. Navy and whistleblower, was accused of “riot” while trying to peacefully arrest Pettway for serving illegally as Monroe County grand jury foreman. Another veteran who attempted to stand up to the corruption in Monroe County, Darren Huff, is serving a four-year prison sentence for a crime that “never happened.”
According to Tennessee history, The Battle of Athens “riot” ended by the veterans’ win at the polls and the cleansing of public corruption, at least for a time:
By morning all violence had stopped. On that very day a governing council was set up and six men were chosen to police the county in the absence of the regular police, who had fled. After the certification of their victory, local GIs changed the method of payment of officials by limiting their salaries to $5,000, replaced county employees who resigned, and scoured out corruption in the government . . . and, yes, they also repaired the jail.
Tennessee is rated among the highest in public corruption by some sources. On Friday, The Knoxville News Sentinel, which has refused to cover the grand jury rigging reported to them by The Post & Email, Fitzpatrick and others, reported that a new study by Fortune Magazine ranked Tennessee “third on the list” of the most corrupt states in the country.
Judge Amy Reedy appointed a new foreman specifically to hear the newest case against Fitzpatrick.
McMinn County grand jury foreman appointing orders obtained are as follows:
Attempts to obtain appointing orders have yielded none in three counties. Bradley County has failed to respond to requests over a three-year period. Lauderdale County stated that it was “short staffed and over worked due to the high crime rate in our area” and therefore could not afford the time to make copies of the orders.
Tennessee’s Open Records law requires that the “legal basis” for the denial of the release of a public record be supplied to the requester.
The circuit court clerk of McNairy County, where real-life events inspired the “Walking Tall” series of films, wrote a letter of apology for producing no records “due to circumstances…that are out of my control” and attributing his distress to poor record-keeping by Blackwood’s former clerk.
Blackwood has said that the grand jury foreman “is no different than any other member of the grand jury.”