Criminal Court Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood today granted the News Sentinel’s motion and unsealed records related to former judge Richard Baumgartner.
As I explained in my column on Sunday, the paper felt it had to challenge the sealing of documents submitted in the sentencing of Christopher Gibson, the drug dealer who provided painkillers to Baumgartner while on probation in his court. The documents addressed arguments as to why the former judge should or should not have to testify at the sentencing. In an in-chambers hearing, Blackwood ruled Baumgartner did not have to appear.
In issuing today’s ruling, Blackwood said the order to seal dated back to when the case still was an unresolved TBI investigation. Because none of the parties now objected to unsealing the files, he went along. But he took time to state from the bench how he had been losing sleep over the impact the Baumgartner case might have on some of the major cases he’d handled, obviously including the Christian/Newsom murder trials.
“We have a tremendous problem on our hands,” Blackwood said. “We don’t know yet what will happen.” He called the situation “unprecendented in the state of Tennessee” and said he did not want the proceedings to turn into a “Barnum and Bailey traveling show.”
We don’t want that to happen either and will report on the contents of the unsealed files responsibly. Still, I remain convinced that, in the long run, transparency will serve the cause of justice better than secrecy, and I appreciate Judge Blackwood’s decision in this unfortunate matter.
Are you a Snuffy Smith fan? Well, here’s your chance to meet the man behind the hillbilly. John Rose, creator of the comic strip, will meet fans and sign autographs at the News Sentinel 5:30-7 p.m. next Monday.
Rose is the third cartoonists to produce the “Snuffy” strip. The comic was started as “Barney Google” by Billy DeBeck in 1919. Fred Lasswell, took over in 1942 after DeBeck’s death and shifted the strip’s focus to the Snuffy Smith character. Rose picked up the strip in 2001.
After carrying “Snuffy” for many years, the News Sentinel cancelled the comic earlier this year after a survey showed its popularity had slipped. But reaction was so great that the newspaper soon restored it. At the time, Rose offered to visit, and I took him up on it.
Samples of his artwork will be displayed in the newspaper’s lobby during the event. If you’re coming, please RSVP to 865-342-6871.
‘Cul de Sac,’ one of our newest comics, is garnering a reputation as one of the best comics in the country. A couple of weeks ago, its creator, Richard Thompson, won the Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year.
The prize, named after Rube Goldberg, is presented each year by the National Cartoonists Society. Past winners include such famed cartoonists as Walt Kelly, Charles Schulz, Garry Trudeau, Bill Watterson, Gary Larson and Bill Mauldin.
Our talented web producers managed to poach another national award in the Radio Television Digital News Association competition. This contest, which bestows the Edward R. Murrow Award, has long been the domain of broadcasters. But in recent years, the RTDNA has added Online News categories, in which the News Sentinel has competed successfully.
Last year, Jigsha Desai, Erin Chapin and Lauren Spuhler of our staff won the Video News Documentary prize for their powerful “Death on Chipman Street” about the Christian-Newsom case.This year, Chapin and Spuhler repeated with their “The Tea Party: Brewing up a Movement” documentary.
Interestingly, none of the winners in the Local Online News Operation division were associated television stations this year. StarTribune.com won the overall excellence award in the division. The Seattle Times won for Video Feature Reporting and for Video Investigative Reporting, Knoxnews.com won for Video News Documentary, and TBD.com won for best Web site. It’s encouraging to see newspapers broadening their capabilities enough to beat out TV and radio stations for national awards for electronic journalism.
I filed a motion in court today, in my role as News Sentinel editor, to intervene in the Christopher Lee Gibson case. Gibson is the drug dealer who sold painkillers to Richard Baumgartner when he was the criminal court judge in charge of Drug Court.
Gibson’s lawyer subpoenaed Baumgartner to testify at Gibson’s sentencing hearing. But the subpoena was quashed by Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood, who then quietly sealed all associated documents. The records are believed to discuss Baumgartner’s relationship with Gibson and Deena Castleman, who both were defendants in Baumgartner’s court.
Our motion was prepared by Rick Hollow, the News Sentinel attorney who won the Black Wednesday sunshine suit on our behalf in 2007. With the motion to intervene Hollow also has submitted a detailed memo arguing that there is no valid legal basis for keeping the documents hidden from the public.
WBIR got the jump on us this morning on news that Athletic Director Mike Hamilton would be announcing his resignation at 11 today. The station had the news posted nearly a half hour before we did, and we admittedly were scrambling to confirm.
Among the folks immediately noticing and jumping on the paper for its lapse was County Mayor Tim Burchett’s wife, Allison. She tweeted:
“good job whoever does the mobile updates for @wbir you guys always get the ‘breaking news’ out about 20 mins before @knoxnews”
I don’t know that WBIR always beats us by 20 minutes, however. Sounds like a challenge we’ll have to disprove.
OK, some of this they didn’t teach in journalism school.
The News Sentinel got into nature videography in a truly big way recently when we covered the mating of giant tortoises at the Knoxville Zoo. Two males had been confined without female companionship since the 1980s. When two females from the Atlanta zoo arrived, the cliche about tortoise tardiness was quickly dispelled.
Video of 130-year-old, 550-pound Al’s encounter with one of the young (60-ish) females was a hit on the Internet, especially after NPR and others linked to the heavyweight match. The popularity of the online event prompted the zoo to create a live “Al Cam,” which we streamed on KnoxNews.com on Friday. The feed ran into some problems when Al wandered out range with the camera attached to his shell and fell asleep. Nonetheless, zoo officials declared the experiment a great success, and a sequel may be in the offing.
The 2011 legislative session saw many bills to close public records or reduce public notice of government action.
Some among the new Republican majority seemed to see the media as an enemy. Frank Gibson, director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government and a statehouse veteran, said, “I haven’t seen such open hostility since the mid-to-late 60s when reporters were banned from the Senate floor because they objected when to being removed from committee meetings while deliberations were underway.”
Mostly the open-government forces prevailed, although some battles were merely put off until later.
Here’s a rundown courtesy of Gibson: