HAS BLACKWOOD “LEARNED HIS LESSON?”
by Sharon Rondeau
We reached his assistant, Mindy, with whom we have spoken before, and asked if Blackwood had retired. Mindy responded that Blackwood was still working, presiding over a hearing in a particular county today. When we asked if it were true that he would be fully retiring in the near future, she said, “You’d have to ask the AOC (Administrative Office of the Courts).”
We then contacted Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts Communications Director Michele Wojciechowski, J.D. and submitted our inquiry by email. In response a short time later, Ms. Wojciechowski responded, “Yes, he is.”
We then asked, “Are you able to announce the date?” to which Wojciechowski replied, “The date is not firmed up yet, but we expect it to be September.”
Blackwood is the judge who called CDR Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III (Ret.) a “moral coward” during his sentencing hearing on August 19 of last year after Fitzpatrick attempted to bring evidence of government corruption to his local grand jury. Blackwood was named in Fitzpatrick’s complaint as a criminal participant, as he is one of scores of Tennessee judges who have hand-picked grand jury foremen for decades from the community at large rather than from the lawfully-impaneled jury pool.
In the past, Blackwood stated that the grand jury foreman “is no different than any other member of the grand jury,” which agrees with Fitzpatrick’s reading of TCA 22-2-314 stating that “A juror who has completed a jury service term shall not be summoned to serve another jury service term in any court of this state for a period of twenty-four (24) months following the last day of such service; however, the county legislative body of any county, may, by majority vote, extend the twenty-four-month period.”
In October, Blackwood denied motion submitted by Fitzpatrick’s attorney, Van Irion, for a new trial and to suspend judgment, stating simply that they were “not well taken.”
Having presided over a previous case in December 2010 involving Fitzpatrick in Monroe County, Blackwood was acquainted with Fitzpatrick when he was assigned to hear the charges against him filed on March 18 of last year following Fitzpatrick’s submission of what he believed was credible evidence of systemic corruption to the McMinn County grand jury.
The previous month, Fitzpatrick had attempted a similar submission but was told by then-grand jury foreman Jeffrey Cunningham, with an armed sheriff’s deputy at his side, that he would not permit Fitzpatrick an audience with the grand jury and would order him arrested if he were to return to the courthouse on a similar mission.
Fitzpatrick then filed a request for a protective order against Cunningham which Blackwood reviewed hastily and denied, an item which was raised by Irion last month during an appeals hearing. Irion included the fact that he was unable to find any case in Tennessee history in which a citizen bringing a sworn submission to his local grand jury was charged with perjury and extortion, convicted and sent to state prison.
During Fitzpatrick’s sentencing hearing, Blackwood allowed parole officer Judith Hilton-Coffman to verbally change her written pre-sentencing report which had stated that Fitzpatrick’s “crimes” were without a victim. During a lengthy soliloquy that day, Blackwood also said that Fitzpatrick had not “learned his lesson” by repeatedly attempting to gain an audience with the grand jury.
Following the June 16 pretrial hearing and June 24 trial, The Post & Email attempted to bring to Wojciechowski’s attention the multiple violations of law and protocol apparent from the recordings which Fitzpatrick was allowed to make of the proceedings. The spokeswoman responded by stating that she did “not have time” to listen to the recordings and that any relief for Fitzpatrick would not be found with the AOC.
On Tuesday, The Post & Email’s editor was a guest with USA Prepares host Vincent Finelli speaking about state corruption, with a focus on Tennessee judicial and prosecutorial criminality. Finelli related incidents in Missouri of excessive force used by police and sheriff’s deputies, false jailings, and the planting of evidence to incriminate individuals speaking out against government corruption in their communities.
The Post & Email will again appear on Finelli’s show on Tuesday, June 16, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon EDT, joining a victim of police brutality whose case is well-known to Finelli. During Tuesday’s broadcast, the father of a Tennessee corruption victim, Dennis Schuelke, called in to the show and explained his son’s two Rutherford County incarcerations without due process.
On Monday, June 8 at 5:00 p.m. EDT, Lt. Col. Field McConnell, who traveled from his home in Wisconsin to Athens, TN to host a barbecue and observe Fitzpatrick’s sentencing proceedings last August, will be a guest on the “No Holds Barred” radio show hosted by Kathy Rubio on American Liberty Live to speak about Fitzpatrick’s case and other victims of the corrupt Tennessee government. This writer will be joining the show at 6:00 p.m. EDT.
Later on June 8, The Post & Email will be Jeffrey Sisk’s guest on American Liberty Live along with Schuelke, who is author of “Attorneys Above the Law.”
On June 15, The Post & Email will be appearing on Joyce Riley’s “The Power Hour” show at 9:00 a.m. EDT to speak on the same topic.
Since The Post & Email aggressively began reporting on judicial corruption in Tennessee beginning with Fitzpatrick’s reports in September 2009 on the state’s Tenth Judicial District, Judge Carroll Lee Ross has retired (2014); Judge Amy Armstrong Reedy was not re-elected (2014) ; a 20-year grand jury foreman in Hamilton County was replaced for suspected lack of impartiality (2010); Monroe County grand jury foreman Gary Pettway, who served for 28 years without an appointing order or having been sworn, in was replaced (2011); and in August 2012, The Chattanooga Times Free Press published a six-day series on suspected prosecutorial and grand jury corruption in the Tenth District.
Last year, after signing the indictments against Fitzpatrick, then-Tenth Judicial District chief prosecutor R. Steven Bebb announced his retirement, which then occurred earlier than expected.
Blackwood presided over a case reversed and remanded back to Monroe County last year involving Christian missionary George Raudenbush, who spent two and one-half years in state prison after being denied his right to an attorney during a 15-hour trial on alleged traffic violations. While Raudenbush was again convicted on the same charges at reduced levels, Blackwood refrained from sending him back to prison, stating that Raudenbush had already served the required time.
In Tennessee, a “senior judge” is technically retired and draws a taxpayer-funded pension but can be called upon to serve where needed.