Wednesday, March 16

With Special Grand Jury, Citizens have power to fight Court corruption

Citizens have the power to fight court corruption

A little-known legal provision gives ordinary citizens immense power, although very few know about it and even less invoke it. That power is the ability to request a special grand jury -- with subpoena power -- to investigate misconduct by government officials and officers of the court.
First mentioned in England's Magna Carta, grand juries were intended to be independent of the Crown. English colonists brought the concept to the New World, where it was later enshrined in the Fifth Amendment as an important check on the judiciary that shields innocent citizens from overzealous prosecutors.
According to the Virginia Supreme Court's 2010 "Handbook for Grand Jurors," the special grand jury, "composed entirely of private citizens, is the one non-political body with legal authority" to investigate court corruption on behalf of citizens unfairly denied their due process rights. But having the right doesn't guarantee it will be easy to exercise.
On March 4, James Renwick Manship of Arlington (NOTE: Actually of Mount Vernon. In Arlington from1979 to 1982 and 2007)  filed a second petition for a special grand jury with the Circuit Court in Winchester after his first petition was denied. The former Navy cryptologist and volunteer court observer has been trying to reopen a 16-year-old death penalty case prosecuted by former Winchester Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Thomson, who was arrested in January on unrelated federal charges of drug possession and witness tampering.
While Thomson was prosecuting 21-year-old Army veteran Jeff Washington for the murder of a local drug dealer 16 years ago, Winchester police reported that an informant told them that "Paul Thomson is skimming money from drug dealers." However, the allegations against Thomson were never investigated. Washington was convicted and sent to prison.
(NOTE: Actually the police report was 4 years later on 02-17-99 while prosecution of Washington was 02-28-95, but there were indicators in 1995 well before the Police Report of 1999).
Washington's father painstakingly gathered evidence -- including altered court transcripts by a court reporter who was allegedly having an affair with Thomson -- pointing to possible conspiracy by Winchester judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and detectives that are the proper subject of a special grand jury investigation.
However, grand jurors declined to convene one on Feb. 15 after presiding Judge John Wetsel told them in his "Supplemental Grand Jury Instructions" that he had not seen any such requests in his 20 years on the bench.
However, Manship pointed out that Wetsel had become "actively involved" with a previous request for a special grand jury submitted by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Fund in a 1996 case involving a severed cow's head that was dumped on a car hood during a United Auto Workers strike.
Shucheng Huang, a Vietnamese mother of four, was targeted by union thugs for crossing a picket line; they even sent a photo of her face superimposed on the cow's to intimidate her family. Huang and other victimized workers eventually settled a lawsuit NRTW filed against UAW. Either Judge Wetsel "forgot" about the cow's head -- or he was deliberately misleading grand jurors.
Manship also maintains that grand jury foreman Michael Butler should have recused himself because the former Winchester vice mayor had been involved in closed-door "personnel" meetings regarding one of the detectives named in his petition.
On Tuesday, Manship's second attempt to get a special grand jury was unsuccessful, as were his efforts to get an expedited ruling from the Virginia Supreme Court. "The Winchester court is a bag of worms, and they don't want to touch it," Manship told The Washington Examiner.
Citizens must not be so squeamish. As the late U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist once said: 

"Justice is too important a matter to be left to the judges, or even the lawyers."
Barbara F. Hollingsworth is The Examiner's local opinion editor.

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