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by Sharon Rondeau

Last month, Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives Beth Harwell was accused of failing to uphold Tennessee law when she and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey appointed nine members to a judicial review commission which no longer exists

(Oct. 27, 2014) — On September 26, 2014, the Davidson County, TN grand jury issued a report covering a three-month period in which it stated that “charges should be brought against Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Speaker of the House Beth Hardwell [sic]” for allegedly disregarding a law mandating that a commission formed to review appellate judges’ performance represent the population of the state in regard to race and gender.

The law, TCA 17-4-201, created a “program” to “assist the public in evaluating the performance of incumbent appellate court judges” in order to vote to retain or remove the judges from office in local elections, which are held in early August in Tennessee.  As Speaker of the House and Senate Leader, respectively, Harwell and Ramsey held the responsibility to select members of the “judicial performance evaluation commission” whose duty it was to “assist the public in evaluating the performance of incumbent appellate court judges.”

Known as “The Tennessee Plan,” the “retain or remove” system instituted in 1971 rescinded the ability of voters to directly elect judges beyond the trial court level in violation of Article VI of the state constitution.  Rather, a “Judicial Nominating Commission” provides names to the governor, who either chooses a candidate or asks for a new list of names.  Voters then cast ballots to either retain or remove judges so appointed by the governor for a term of eight years.

The Tennessee Plan is touted as a means of “insulating the courts from political influence and pressure and improving the administration of justice.”

Following the issuance of the grand jury report, The Tennessean quoted Hooker as having said, “What an unbelievable country we live in when a private citizen can go before other ordinary citizens of the state to expose corruption in the way our government conducts business.”

Unlike Hooker’s experience, not every citizen can approach a Tennessee grand jury.  On numerous occasions, CDR Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III (Ret.) had brought evidence of criminality on the part of judges, prosecutors, grand jury foremen, court clerks, and law enforcement officers which the grand jury was either not allowed to review or refused to consider.

On March 18 of this year, Fitzpatrick submitted documentation to the McMinn County grand jury, which, instead of reviewing it, charged Fitzpatrick with the extortion, aggravated perjury, stalking and harassment of then-grand jury foreman Jeffrey L. Cunningham, an attorney and bank president.

Fitzpatrick was tried in late June by a compromised judge familiar with his previous attempts to expose corruption in the Tennessee courts.  A grand jury member who had signed the indictments against Fitzpatrick admitted that she had been provided information about him by Cunningham in January which caused her to ask if she should feel “threatened” by Fitzpatrick.  The same grand jurors who later indicted Fitzpatrick on the four charges were escorted to their vehicles at Cunningham’s request so that they would not interact with Fitzpatrick, who was leaving the McMinn County courthouse at the same time after attempting to present documentation of what he saw as judicial and prosecutorial malfeasance.

During the fall of 2009, Fitzpatrick discovered while living in nearby Monroe County that if the grand jury foreman did not wish to review certain evidence, a citizen could and would be turned away from making a presentation to the grand jury.  Fitzpatrick had attempted to submit a petition charging Barack Hussein Obama with treason against the United States for ascending to the White House as a “foreign born domestic enemy” by “dissembling and deceit.”

 Over the last five years, CDR Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III (Ret.) has demonstrated that Tennessee courts are, in the opinion of one out-of-state attorney, “hopelessly corrupted.”  Because judges have been shielded from accountability by the legislature, their practice of hand-selecting grand jury foremen, who serve for years and sometimes decades at the judge’s behest, has neither been questioned nor impeded, while constituent complaints have largely gone unaddressed.

As a result, hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of Tennessee citizens have been jailed and sent to state prisons by indictments issued under unconstitutional conditions over at least three decades but most likely for much longer.

Fitzpatrick is currently serving a three-year prison sentence as a result of convictions by a jury on the charges of aggravated perjury and extortion without any evidence.  The state’s star witness, Cunningham, denied during sworn testimony that Fitzpatrick had submitted any perjurious information to the McMinn County grand jury and that he had ever filed a formal complaint or police report naming Fitzpatrick in the commission of a crime.

The judge who sentenced Fitzpatrick on August 19 also presided over a hearing last Monday during which Fitzpatrick’s defense attorney, Van Irion, requested a new trial and for judgment to be “arrested,” or vacated.  Not surprisingly, Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood issued a one-sentence opinion stating that Irion’s requests were “not well taken and should be denied.”

Fitzpatrick has described a “dictatorship of the judiciary” in Tennessee which operates “a government not found in our United States Constitution.”

Despite requests for congressional involvement in the corruption of the Tennessee courts accompanied by documentation several months ago, judges in Tennessee continue to act without fear of reprimand.  An administrator at the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts advised The Post & Email several weeks ago that she was unable to advise us as to where to turn to report the corruption we described to her other than to “file a complaint against the judge” with the Board of Judicial Conduct, which historically rarely disciplines judges.

The Fifth Amendment to the Bill of Rights invokes the power of a grand jury to review, without prejudice or government influence, evidence against an individual to determine whether or not a prosecutor should issue formal charges.  Mounting evidence shows, however, that grand juries are now used as tools of the government against the people and, in some cases, to issue politically-charged indictments.

In its recent report, the Davidson County grand jury wrote that longtime Tennessee political activist John Jay Hooker and several other citizens had appeared before them to explain why they believed Harwell and Ramsey had broken the law in making the appointments to the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (JPEC), which is now defunct.

In June, Tennessee Watchdog reported that Hooker reminded Tennesseans that the state constitution calls for “qualified electors” to directly elect judges and opposed the Tennessee Bar Association’s endorsement of The Tennessee Plan, the approval for which is framed as “Amendment 2” on Tennessee ballots on November 4.

If voters approve Amendment 2, the governor will appoint judges to both appellate courts and the state supreme court “subject to confirmation by the general assembly,” solidifying the removal of the election of judges by the people by constitutional amendment.  Both Democrats and Republicans support the passage of Amendment 2.

In its position paper in favor of passing Amendment 2, the Tennessee Bar Association (TBA) states that “Tennessee courts have a reputation worth protecting.”

On Monday, The Post & Email contacted the offices of Harwell and Ramsey for comment on the Davidson County grand jury report but did not receive a response as of press time.  We also did not hear back from District Attorney General Glenn R. Funk‘s spokeswoman, Dorinda Carter, as to whether or not charges had been or would be leveled against Harwell and Ramsey.

However, Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) General Counsel David Haines responded to our inquiry by confirming that “The grand jury didn’t issue any indictments.  The JPEC has not been replaced, and it no longer exists.  The statute that calls for diversity in the makeup of the Commission is TCA Section 17-4-201 (b) (6).”


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