“THERE WAS NO BASIS FOR MY ARREST”
by Sharon Rondeau
“Cunningham” is Jeffrey L. Cunningham, who served as McMinn County grand jury foreman from January 2012 to early March 2014.
Cunningham is also President and CEO of the Athens Federal Community Bank, which raises the question as to why he accepted former Judge Amy Armstrong Reedy’s personal invitation to serve as grand jury foreman for $11.00 a day. His successor at the grand jury, retired law-enforcement professional Larry Wallace, is also affiliated with the bank and personally selected by Reedy prior to her losing her bid for re-election in August 2014.
Reedy’s successor is former prosecutor Sandra Donaghy. Last Tuesday, Donaghy granted Fitzpatrick’s request that Wallace recuse himself from the foremanship since Fitzpatrick accused Wallace of wrongdoing in his written complaint.
Donaghy then appointed a grand jury foreman pro tempore, Terry Bowers, and chose two members of the sitting grand jury to comprise a three-member panel who Fitzpatrick briefly addressed and with whom he left approximately 400 pages of documentation alleging systemic public corruption within the judiciary to include the grand jury itself.
As Fitzpatrick has reported since late 2009, Tennessee’s criminal court judges have for decades been permitted to hand-pick the local grand jury foreman, many of whom ultimately serve for years or even decades. Fitzpatrick’s reports of government corruption within the Tenth Judicial District have been at least partially supported by Tennessee mainstream media.
The Tenth District comprises McMinn, Monroe, Bradley and Polk Counties.
In May 2012, while perusing Tennessee code, Fitzpatrick discovered that county criminal courts were outlawed by the legislature in 1984, having been directed by new legislation to form multi-county districts from which to draw jurors and operate “circuit” criminal courts.
During a confrontation between Fitzpatrick and Cunningham at the Justice Center on February 18, 2014, Cunningham told Fitzpatrick not to return to request a grand jury hearing under threat of arrest, with an armed sheriff’s deputy at Cunningham’s side. Fitzpatrick then requested but was denied a restraining order against Cunningham by Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood, who was acquainted with Fitzpatrick through a Monroe County case over which Blackwood had presided and pronounced Fitzpatrick’s then-jail sentence.
“In 2014 and before, Cunningham was blocking me from reporting that the system they are using is unconstitutional. He brought allegations against me because he knew that if he didn’t stop me, I’d be coming back, and he succeeded, at least temporarily,” Fitzpatrick told The Post & Email following his July 18 trip to the courthouse.
One month later, on March 18, 2014, under Cunningham’s influence, the McMinn County grand jury indicted Fitzpatrick on four charges: aggravated perjury, extortion, harassment and stalking after Fitzpatrick sought to testify to the grand jury on the same issue as last week: that judges’ hand-picking of grand jury foremen is prejudicial, illegal and unconstitutional.
As was reported in 2013, a Davidson County grand jury foreman handpicked by a judge from outside of the jury pool was found to have been a convicted felon and therefore served in violation of Tennessee code, necessitating a review of hundreds of cases in which he had been involved. “Typically judges appoint someone they are acquainted with,” then-District Attorney General Torry Johnson had told reporters.
The system has been instilled in Tennessee for at least a century as shown by Fitzpatrick’s extensive research, which includes a state supreme court case in which the grand jury foreman was said to have been chosen “from the venire,” or jury pool.
Tennessee law allows any citizen to request to testify to his local grand jury with the caveat that he must swear or affirm that the information he wishes to present is true and accurate to the best of his knowledge under penalty of perjury.
After his arrest by two sheriffs’ deputies on March 18, 2014, Fitzpatrick was tried on the four charges stemming from the grand jury indictments and ultimately convicted of the two felonies of aggravated perjury and extortion. The “evidence” used by the grand jury to indict him was the petition he had brought to present to them alleging that Cunningham, judicial district prosecutors, judges, court clerks, the county sheriff and his deputies were perpetrating crimes against the citizenry as a result of the “rigged” grand juries.
On August 19, 2014, Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood sentenced Fitzpatrick to three years in state prison for having failed to “learn his lesson,” in an apparent reference to Fitzpatrick’s repeated attempts to gain a hearing in front of a full county grand jury, an effort which began in nearby Monroe County in 2009.
Fitzpatrick spent more than 26 months in state prison, which very nearly killed him due to medical complications.
In a guest appearance on a local radio show in January 2015, Tenth Judicial District chief prosecutor Stephen Crump affirmed that “The grand jury is open to any citizen who wants to come and appear” but has not addressed the issue of the judicially-selected foreman or why Fitzpatrick was prosecuted for attempting to do that which he said is within Tennessee law.
The Tennessee attorney general’s office has attempted to justify the hand-selecting of the grand jury foreman by the judge by claiming that the foreman is a non-voting member of the group, while the Tennessee District Attorneys’ General Conference described the grand jury as “a group of thirteen citizens chosen from the jury panel” on a web page now removed from the organization’s website.
“One of these thirteen is the fore person and will preside over the grand jury,” the description said.
In early 2012, Fitzpatrick moved to McMinn County and began requesting a hearing with the grand jury there in August of that year without success.
“Cunningham was right about one thing: here I am, back again, making the same allegations about the next grand jury foreman and Cunningham. I’m doing the same thing now that I did before,” Fitzpatrick said last week after he spoke with the three-member panel.
He additionally observed from the encounter:
It is extremely important that I wasn’t arrested last Tuesday. It is beyond my ability to describe. I wasn’t arrested because there was no basis for my arrest. But Jeff Cunningham acted against me back in 2014 after he wouldn’t recuse himself.
I’ve done enough to show that Tennessee has gone rogue since at least 1919.
Cunningham told the court that I was lying about his blocking me from testifying to the grand jury. Cunningham was the principal witness against me to lock me up for more than two years. Cunningham is the man. He said he didn’t block me. In order for him to make that case and prove himself right, he would have had to produce a copy of an appointing order that was issued for his replacement after he recused himself, just as Larry Wallace and Judge Donaghy demonstrated on Tuesday.
He has never produced the appointing order for his replacement.
Fitzpatrick has requested a hearing in front of a new three-member grand jury panel given that Bowers and the two other grand jurors Fitzpatrick addressed were handpicked by Donaghy.
[Editor’s Note: As of April 7, 2016, Larry Wallace was serving as Chairman of the Board at Athens Federal. See documentation below.]