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Officer no-shows for grand jury raises judge's ire

Becky Campbell • Updated Sep 10, 2018 at 10:44 PM

A Washington County Criminal Court judge issued a blistering warning to all law enforcement officers in the county — show up for their grand jury subpoenas or she’ll put them in jail.

Judge Lisa Rice’s pointed comments came Monday morning after a recess of her morning docket to allow attorneys to finish up some final plea negotiations. Monday was also a meeting day for the grand jury to listen to evidence in cases prepared by area law enforcement and the District Attorney General’s Office.

Because grand jury days don’t often coincide with an officer’s work schedule, there is a general agreement in place that allows an officer working nights to hand his or her case to another officer to present to the grand jury for them.

Also, the DA’s office tries to spread out the times officers are scheduled to be in front of the grand jury so officers aren’t sitting around all day while other officers have to accommodate for those officers by taking service calls.

It’s been a long-standing agreement, but there was apparently a problem Monday with several officers not showing up at their appointed time. Rice didn’t specifically say which department she was referring to, but did say there was not an issue concerning the Tennessee Highway Patrol.

When Rice returned to the bench around 10 a.m., she asked the assistant DAs in court if the officers are subpoenaed for their specific case. She was told they are, but often one officer from that shift will bring several cases from different officers to keep the departments from having a shortage of officers on shift that day.

Rice said if the process in place right now continues and officers don’t ensure their cases are being delivered to the grand jury by another officer, she’ll enforce the subpoenas or let them sit in jail for a little bit.

“We’ll line them up in the hallway like we used to do,” she said.

Later in the day, District Attorney General Ken Baldwin took full responsibility for what he called a miscommunication between his office and law enforcement scheduled for grand jury Monday.

Baldwin said an email reminder sent to officers mentioned Sept. 18, but an attached document of the day’s schedule had the correct date of Sept. 10 on it. He believes that’s what caused the confusion for officers.

Nonetheless, Rice said there has been an issue throughout the judicial district — which includes Washington, Carter, Unicoi and Johnson counties —  the past two or three grand jury days where designated officers from different departments failed to show up on time or at all.

“It’s not going to happen anymore,” Rice said. “My grand jury foreman is not happy.”

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