Rule 6(g)(1) of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure allows The judge of the court authorized by law to charge–and receive the report of–the grand jury to appoint the Grand Jury foreperson. Rule 6 specifies that the term of the appointment is two years, unless dismissed by the Judge, but does not specify a limit to the number of terms that the foreperson can be appointed. The other 12 members of the Grand Jury are ineligible to serve on another jury for two years after their service on the Grand Jury.
Allowing the Judge to appoint the Grand Jury Foreperson may render ineffective one or more of the important duties of the Grand Jury, which are defined in Rule 6 of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure. Grand Juries are supposed to be free and independent to investigate the actions of state and local public officials, and to examine the condition of the County treasury. While it’s possible for any Grand Jury member to initiate investigations into any criminal matter, many simply don’t know that they can look into matters without the direction of the District Attorney. Thus, it’s not likely that Grand Jury members understand the full range of their duties and the 12 that don’t serve as the foreperson are poorly paid and generally looking to go home as soon as possible to tend to their own affairs, as most don’t want to participate and are only present because they have to be. It’s a sacred role that is poorly understood by most and under used as a result, and even less likely to be used by allowing Judges to pick the foreperson and allow that person to serve indefinitely.
The Judges role in overseeing matters of the Grand Jury and it’s foreperson should be strictly limited to three things: seeing that it’s properly empaneled, administering the oaths to it’s members and appointing a pro tem foreperson who will only oversee the first meeting of the Grand Jury long enough for it to choose it’s foreperson. Even in the event that the foreperson can or should no longer serve, the Grand Jury should have it’s own appointed pro tempore Grand Jury foreperson to assume the vacant role.
The Foreperson of the Grand Jury is not a popularly elected office; therefore, it should be independent of all other influences and should not be a lifetime appointment or career. Attorneys already have a monopoly on the judicial branch of government in the State of Tennessee, and have great strength in both the Legislative and Executive branches. Thus, it’s vital to our Republic that the bulwark of impropriety of government officials provided by the Grand Jury and it’s Foreperson be free and independent from the Judge and DA, and truly be our 4th branch of government.
I have emailed my State Senator Doug Overbey, who is an attorney, about this matter. He told me that he discussed this matter, with those whose opinions he values, and that they told him the system works fine and doesn’t need to be changed. When I pointed out that he went to the people that make their living off the system and have no reason to change a system that pays them well, he mearly reiterated that he valued their opinion more than mine. If you believe that the system does need to be changed, give him a call at (615) 741-0981 or send him an email.
The whole reason we have Juries, whether Grand or trial Petit, is because Judges have historically demonstrated that they can not be trusted. If all Judges were honest, there would be no need for any type of Jury. This is why it is a bad idea to let the Judge appoint the Grand Jury foreperson, because the whole point of a Jury is to be a check on the Judge, Prosecutor and government.
There is a very serious problem with the Attorney monopolization of the Judicial branch of government and the closed system it creates. In Tennessee, with the limited exception of municipal Judges, one must be an attorney to become a Judge. The Tennessee Constitution specifically states that Judges are to be elected, yet beyond the trial courts the Judges are appointed by the governor, through a recommendation process controlled by attorneys. The Tennessee constitution authorizes the Supreme Court Judges to pick the State Attorney General. It’s convenient that the Judges follow the constitution when it suits their power structure, but are willing to violate the State constitution and their oaths of office, when it makes them accountable to the voters. The Tennessee General Assembly delegates it’s authority to the Supreme Court, by letting those 5 judges propose the rules. It’s true that the General Assembly retains power to amend the proposed rules, but most of the rules are rubber stamped by the legislature. The same 5 judges that are appointed, rather than elected, have written Rule 6(g)(1), empowering the Circuit Court Judge handling criminal cases, to appoint the foreperson. The current Judicial system violates both the state constitution, and the lessons of history, which demonstrate the need for an independent Grand Jury.
All of this is compounded by the fact that in Tennessee the Grand Jury consist of only 13 members and it takes 12 yes votes to obtain an indictment or true bill. If the foreperson is too close to the Judge or Prosecutor, there is one no vote and all it takes is one other no vote to allow corruption to continue. The number of Grand Jurors should be expanded to 23 to allow for more votes to obtain the 12 needed for an indictment and to process more complaints without having to empanel two separate Grand Juries. Expanding the Grand Jury to 23 members would allow for Grand Jury committees to examine more complaints, and in greater detail. These committees could report to the Grand Jury as a whole with a recommendation and then a vote by all 23 members.
Here are my communications with Tom Hatcher, the Circuit Court Clerk, and his responses.
Inquiry 1 Response 1
Inquiry 2 Response 2
Inquiry 3 Response 3
Tom Hatcher did not answer my question regarding the next opportunity for public comment on the local rules.
Blount County Grand Jury Statistics for 2006-2010
When there is a problem, it is always wise to have a solution before complaining to those in authority about a problem. Don’t complain to those who claim to be benefactors yet exercise authority over you, by telling them they need to do something. They may do something alright, but you may not like what that something is that they do, if you provide no solution. Always have a well though out solution before approaching those in authority about a problem.
The local solution proposed in my letter is not a permanet fix to the problem, and certainly doesn’t fix the problem in the other 94 counties in Tennessee. It is up to the citizens of each County to fix the problem at a local level, or come together and fix the problem at a State level, which is the more complete solution.
PK Lowery, of the Tennessee Institute for Responsible Government, and I have been working for reform on this matter at the State level. PK obtained a House sponsor and I obtained a Senate sponsor, but the House sponsor did not deliver the bill to the Senate sponsor before the filing deadline; therefore, the bill is dead this year. We will be working to have this bill reintroduced in 2012, and your help is needed to make this happen. This attorney-Judge stranglehold of government can be broken, if you will get involved.