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by Sharon Rondeau

The McMinn County “Justice Center” consists of the courthouse and jail and is located in Athens, TN

(Jul. 30, 2017) — As The Post & Email reported on Saturday, McMinn County, TN Criminal Court Judge Sandra Donaghy issued an order following the July 18 submission of a 400+-page report by county citizen Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III alleging widespread, systemic public corruption which he wished the grand jury to review.

The Fifth Amendment tasks the grand jury with reviewing evidence of a crime before an arrest of a citizen can be made.  The protection of the grand jury extends to both citizens accused of a crime by the government and those in government.

According to the Franklin County, TN, circuit court clerk’s office, “It is also the duty of the Grand Jury to inquire into the condition and management of prisons and other buildings and institutions of the county, inquire into the condition of the country treasury, into any abuse of office by state or local officers, and to report the results of its actions to the court.”

Over the last eight years, Fitzpatrick has attempted to gain a hearing in front of a Tennessee grand jury to detail evidence of corruption he has compiled beginning with the hand-picking of grand jury foremen, a custom which took root in the Volunteer State at least a century ago.  The judge not only chooses a person with whom he or she is acquainted, but also one who does not come from the lawfully-empaneled jury pool and whose qualifications are never made public.

The grand jury foreman, in essence, becomes an employee of the judge and therefore introduces the government’s influence into every grand jury deliberation.

Tennessee judges and prosecutors deny undue influence on the grand jury and defend the hand-selection of the foreman based on the longstanding practice.

Tennessee law allows any citizen to petition to appear before the county grand jury on any matter about which he or she claims to have evidence and belief.  The law states that a three-member panel of the full grand jury consisting of the foreman and two others is to review the citizen’s complaint and recommend for or against consideration by the full group.

Received by Fitzpatrick on Saturday, Donaghy’s order claimed that the three-member grand jury panel to whom he gave a brief presentation on the 18th found him to be “not credible.”  Donaghy ordered Fitzpatrick’s submission “sealed,” purportedly to “protect” Fitzpatrick’s reputation.

According to Fitzpatrick, the three were not in a position to judge his credibility because they could not have taken the time to read the 400 pages of documentation he presented to them in the time between his departure from the “Justice Center” and their reported summary filed with Court Clerk Rhonda Cooley later that day.

“They were handpicked.  They weren’t picked by me; they were picked by somebody else,” Fitzpatrick said.  “It was not humanly possible for them to make a determination regarding what was or was not credible.  It wasn’t about me being credible; I was giving them a physical demonstration about what was different about what happened on the 18th as opposed to what happened in March 2014.  I told them, ‘What you’re seeing now has never happened to me before, and Mr. Cunningham blocked me from getting this far in the proceedings.  This is all new.’ So it was not possible for them to render that information ‘not credible.'”

After leaving the package with the three-member panel and departing the courthouse that afternoon, Fitzpatrick told The Post & Email that his meeting with them proved that his 2014 arrest, trial, conviction and prison sentence from which he was released last October were a sham.

On March 18, 2014, Fitzpatrick was arrested while reading a book on a bench outside the grand jury room at the same courthouse he visited on July 18, indicted on two misdemeanors and two felonies upon the complaint of former grand jury foreman Jeffrey L. Cunningham.

Cunningham accused Fitzpatrick of stalking and harassing him, constituting the two misdemeanors, and claimed that Fitzpatrick committed “aggravated perjury” and “extortion” in submitting claims of government corruption which Cunningham did not permit the grand jury to review.

Fitzpatrick’s written submissions, however, were used as “evidence” to indict, arrest and charge him that day.  In June 2014, Fitzpatrick was tried and convicted of the felonies despite Cunningham’s admission that he never filed a criminal complaint with the prosecutor’s office or the Athens, TN Police Department.  The Bill of Particulars was subsequently devoid of detail.

During the trial, Cunningham admitted under oath that Fitzpatrick appeared to believe what he had written in his grand jury submissions, belying Cunningham’s claim that Fitzpatrick committed perjury.

Following the verdicts, The Post & Email was unable to reach any of the 12 jurors who rendered them despite repeated attempts.

A former attorney for Fitzpatrick, Stephen Pidgeon, remarked in 2010 that Tennessee’s judicial system is “hopelessly corrupted.”  Defense attorneys have been observed by some defendants as failing to work on their behalf while appearing to conduct ex parte communications with the judge and/or prosecution.

Complaints naming judges and/or prosecutors in malfeasance are rarely pursued from our observation.

Having attempted to approach the McMinn County grand jury on a number of occasions since August 2012 but denied a hearing by Cunningham, Fitzpatrick had requested that Cunningham recuse himself because he was eventually named in Fitzpatrick’s complaint.  Cunningham refused, using the grand jury to issue the four indictments against Fitzpatrick.

On July 18, 2017, after Fitzpatrick approached the grand jury with his sizable submission and asked current grand jury foreman Larry Wallace to recuse himself, Donaghy acknowledged that because Wallace was named in Fitzpatrick’s complaint, Wallace should recuse himself, which he did.

“There was no basis for my arrest,” Fitzpatrick said.

Donaghy then appointed Terry Bowers to act as grand jury foreman pro tempore.  Bowers was joined by two women, one of whom was identified only by first name.  The other remained unidentified.

In her order, Donaghy wrote that Fitzpatrick chose the two other grand jurors, a claim Fitzpatrick disputed.  “I picked two numbers, #1 and #2, completely uninformed,” Fitzpatrick said, referring to state law which allows the petitioner to specify the qualifications of the other two grand jurors used to screen submissions.  “They were plants,” he added.

The three-member panel’s decision to reject Fitzpatrick’s submission was made the same day as his presentation, with Donaghy claiming to have received it three days later on July 21.

“Cunningham has admitted that he committed a crime, and that’s what Donaghy saw,” Fitzpatrick said.  “Concealing evidence of a crime is a crime.  Doanghy just committed a criminal act.”







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  1. trader jack wrote:

    “the fact that a grand jury did not indict a person or business does not mean that no crime was committed, as grand juries can not determine guilt or innocence.”

    That makes no sense. In this case the sub panel of the grand jury determined there wasn’t even enough evidence to meet the threshold of sending the case to the full grand jury much less indicting anyone. So legally no crime was committed. What’s left are the ramblings of an angry private citizen who doesn’t like the grand jury system in Tennessee.

  2. The sole function of a grand jury is determine whether probable cause exists as to believe a crime has been committed.

    Rejecting Fitzpatrick’s claims necessarily means there was not such probable cause.

  3. the fact that a grand jury did not indict a person or business does not mean that no crime was committed, as grand juries can not determine guilt or innocence.

  4. But the way the “system” works, in fact, is the “grand jurors” (fore person appointed by the “court”) answer to the prosecutor (DA)*, the DA is striking for AG, and the “judge” is campaigning (from the bench) for reelection.
    So, of course, Walt’s file was hidden. It exposes the corruption and could hinder the DA and Judge from getting reelected, or worse.
    * Recall the infamous quote from a DA: “I could indict a ham sandwich”.
    So the judiciary “system” was utilized as required by law. Walt got to make his presentation. The grand jury, whatever that is, currently, determined Walt was not credible and declined to act on his presentation. The process was followed. And yet another sham (scam?) process was committed by a known and acknowledged corrupt judiciary.

  5. The judge has every right to seal the records of a grand jury proceeding. It is in fact SOP. Fitzpatrick could easily publish his 400 page whatever. Maybe he has already. Fitzpatrick could also pursue the matter in court but he would run smack dab into the precedent of the case of In Re the Death of Ryan Reed from 1989.

    Does this blog sign on to calling a sitting judge a criminal? That is a serious accusation. Just curious.

  6. Even assuming concealing a crime is a crime, in this situation, those authorized to determine whether a crime occurred — the judge, the prosecutor, the grand jurors — have said no crime occurred.

    So concealing a non-crime is not a crime.