By Sharon Rondeau / The Post & Email
(Jul. 29, 2017) — On Saturday, Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III received in the mail an order from McMinn County, Tenn., Criminal Court Judge Sandra Donaghy indicating that an alleged report produced by a three-person panel of the county grand jury was filed “under seal” so as to “protect” him.
Donaghy’s brief misspells Fitzpatrick’s middle name, stating it in the feminine version of “Frances.”
On Tuesday, July 18, Fitzpatrick went to the McMinn County “Justice Center” with a document package totaling approximately 400 pages detailing what he believes to be clear evidence of public corruption encompassing, but not limited to, the manner in which Tennessee judges hand-select grand jury foremen.
According to Donaghy, the documentation package was also placed under seal, although Fitzpatrick has said that it is already publicly available.
Bypassing the rules
For more than a century, Tennessee’s criminal court judges have invited their business and personal acquaintances to chair the grand jury, circumventing the mandated empaneling of a jury pool from which grand jurors are ultimately selected after having been screened for conflict of interest and other considerations.
Enshrined in the American judicial system is the concept that jurors are to be “peers” of citizens petitioning the courts for redress of grievances or of those accused of a crime by the government.
In McMinn County, specifically, its handpicked grand jury foremen are often associated with the local federally-chartered financial institution, Athens Federal Community Bank (AFCB).
From January 2012 through March 2014, President & CEO Jeffrey L. Cunningham, of Athens Bancshares Corporation, the parent company of AFCB, was grand jury foreman, having been handpicked by Judge Amy Armstrong Reedy.
Cunningham’s successor, Larry Wallace, was an active AFCB Board member through at least last year and likely still active. Another former McMinn County grand jury foreman, Joel Riley, who was reappointed by Reedy, was on the AFCB Foundation Board of Directors as of 2015.
The grand jury foreman is paid $11 daily. In the past, Bloomberg stated Cunningham’s annual salary at the bank as $630,000 but has not provided that information since January.
Why a “CEO, President & Director” of a federally chartered bank would wish or have the time to serve as county grand jury foreman has never been answered; the same question arises with Wallace, who is listed as Chairman of Athens Bancshares by Bloomberg.
Cunningham is a licensed attorney, while Wallace is a retired law-enforcement professional who once served as McMinn County sheriff.\
The Tennessee appellate and supreme courts have found nothing amiss in the way grand jury foremen in the state are hand-selected from outside of the jury pool, although state law does not allow special selection or treatment of the foreman.
Rule 6(g)(2) of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure states that the foreman “must possess all the qualifications of a juror,” but with the judges’ personal selection, they are not vetted and their “qualifications” or potential conflicts of interest remain undisclosed.
A Knoxville appellate court upheld Fitzpatrick’s 2014 convictions of “aggravated perjury” and “extortion” stemming from his request to testify to the grand jury then, as he did on July 18. Last year, the Tennessee Supreme Court refused to consider Fitzpatrick’s appeal, which was subsequently filed with the U.S. Supreme Court but not granted a hearing.
Fitzpatrick spent 26 months and 17 days confined to state prison, where he contracted septicemia and nearly died. He was released on October 25, 2016 and provided a one-way bus ticket to Athens, McMinn County, where he had resided since February 2012.
McMinn County, TN Judge Neglects to Properly Vet Prospective Jurors
In the evidence packet Fitzpatrick provided to the “grand jury” panel on the 18th, he included documentation from two U.S. Supreme Court cases which maintain that “prejudicial” means of appointing the foreman of a grand jury cannot be tolerated.
On the first page of her order, Donaghy recounted that on July 18, Fitzpatrick petitioned for a grand jury hearing. Although not cited, Tennessee code allows for any citizen to ask to testify to his local grand jury.
Contrasted with Cunningham’s handling of Fitzpatrick’s petitions three years ago is Donaghy’s acknowledgement that because current grand jury foreman Larry Wallace was accused of criminal activity in Fitzpatrick’s latest documentation, Wallace was “required” to recuse himself from the foremanship.
Although named in Fitzpatrick’s 2014 petitions, Cunningham did not recuse himself and became the chief trial witness against Fitzpatrick, during which Cunningham admitted that he never filed a criminal complaint.
On March 18, 2014, Fitzpatrick was arrested at the courthouse by two sheriff’s deputies while awaiting a decision outside of the grand jury room on his request to testify.
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