Former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner was sentenced today to six months in prison, reports the News Sentinel.
The Democrat and longtime jurist also was sentenced in Greeneville by U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer to a year’s supervised release after the term is completed.
Baumgartner’s attorney, Donald A. Bosch of Knoxville, told the court he would apply for a stay of the sentence. Baumgartner will be allowed to self report to a federal prison.
Baumgartner stepped down in March 2011 and pleaded guilty in state court to official misconduct amid an investigation that showed he had abused drugs and used court defendants to secure them. He was spared prison and allowed to keep his pension.
In October, however, a federal jury convicted him of five counts of misprision of a felony, meaning he knew about and covered up a mistress’ involvement in a drug conspiracy centered around his drug usage.
Just before the anniversary of one of Knoxville’s most horrific crimes, the judge who threw the case into legal chaos is now appealing the state’s move to rescind his pension, reports The News Sentinel. “It burns me up, especially this coming upon the anniversary” of the Jan. 7, 2007, torture-slayings of Channon Christian, 21, and Christopher Newsom, 23, said state Sena. Randy McNally, a Republican whose district includes parts of Knox County as well as Anderson, Loudon and Monroe counties.
Former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner lost his pension after a jury in U.S. District Court convicted him in October of felony charges of misprision of a felony for his role in covering up a prescription painkiller conspiracy of which his mistress was a part.
His pension had been spared when, in March 2011, he pleaded guilty to a state charge of official misconduct for buying pills from a felon on probation in his court. He was granted a diversionary sentence that kept the charge off his record.
The entire case against him stemmed from a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe that showed Baumgartner had been committing a slew of crimes, including doctor shopping and using a graduate of the Drug Court program he helped found as his mistress and pill supplier, while presiding over trials including those of the four defendants in the Christian/Newsom case.
Revelations of those allegations and additional ones unearthed by a News Sentinel probe ultimately led to the granting of new trials for those four defendants. One, Vanessa Coleman, has already been retried. A judge is set to decide later this month if the remaining three suspects should be afforded new trials.
A once-famed Knox County judge who spent 19 years sending criminals to prison now faces his own stint behind bars, reports Jamie Satterfield. A 10-woman, two-man jury in U.S. District Court on Friday deemed already disgraced former Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner guilty of five of six federal charges of lying to cover up his pill-supplying mistress’ role in a drug conspiracy.
The convictions immediately cost Baumgartner his state pension.
He faces a March 27 sentencing hearing at which federal prosecutors are expected to seek the maximum three-year sentence he faces on each count, although U.S. Attorney Bill Killian said Friday it is unlikely U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer would stack each of the five sentences onto the other.
The House unanimously approved and sent to the governor Monday a bill that – if in effect last year — would have prevented former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner from getting “pre-trial diversion” for his crimes.
“We had an instance in Knox County where we had a judge who went out and committed crimes related to his office,” sponsor Rep.. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, told colleagues who questioned the need for SB2566. “He created a whole host of problems.”
The bill, which earlier passed the Senate unanimously under the sponsorship of Republican Sen. Ken Yager of Harriman, declares that any public official convicted of a crime related to his or her duties in office cannot receive pre-trial diversion.
Pre-trial diversion is now available to first-time offenders under some circumstances. In Baumgartner’s case, by receiving diversion on a charge of official misconduct rather than a normal conviction, he was able to receive his state pension.
Rep. Larry Miller, D-Memphis, questioned Haynes at some length on the bill, wondering at one point if it would prevent a state trooper from giving legislators a break on a speeding ticket. Haynes said it would not.
Frank Cagle thinks the Richard Baumgartner mess in Knoxville will have an impact on the Legislature’s Court of the Judiciary dealings in Nashville. And he’s got an idea on what could be done. Judges are, essentially, sovereign. They are elected. They don’t have a boss. The idea that a board in Nashville can keep up with the daily schedules and foibles of state judges is laughable. There is a bill scheduled for this session to reform the Court of the Judiciary, which is charged with regulating ethical behavior. Baumgartner will be the poster boy for the need for reform. The test of the reform needs to be the prevention of something like this happening again.
…We don’t know if anyone reported Baumgartner’s problems to the Court of the Judiciary, because complaints about judges are kept confidential. But some states have a position, at least in major metropolitan areas, called a courts administrator. The administrator assigns cases, manages the court system, and files regular reports. Such a position could insure that judges come back to the office after lunch. That all the judges carry a full and fair load. The judges wouldn’t be able to pick and choose cases and grant continuances at will.
The judges would be independent in the courtroom and on matters of law. But the administrator would be able to file reports to the Court of the Judiciary if a judge is lazy, absent or impaired.
Yes, we have court clerks in Tennessee. But does anyone seriously think a court clerk could confront Baumgartner or any other judge? A court administrator would have to be protected by civil service and be subject to removal only by the state Supreme Court.
The suggestion that the state’s judges will allow a position to be created that infringes on their prerogatives in any way is not likely to go anywhere. But something has to be done. It would be better if the judges came up with a solution. If they don’t, legislators will likely do it for them. The judges might not like the outcome.
State lawmakers who chair the House and Senate judiciary committees say the saga of Judge Richard Baumgartner’s ignominious descent into drug addiction, criminality and professional impropriety will almost certainly strengthen calls for sweeping judicial ethics reform in Tennessee, according to TNReport. “Surely the people that worked around him knew that he was on drugs,” said Senate Judiciary Chairwoman Mae Beavers. “So what’s their obligation to report it? We’ve really got to look at our system and what’s going on.”
Added House Judiciary Chairman Eric Watson, “Something’s going to have to be done.”
On Dec. 1, a judge ordered retrials for all four defendants convicted in the kidnapping, rape and torture slayings of Channon Christian, 21, and Christopher Newsom, 23.
…The state’s legal apparatus for detecting and dealing with unethical judges, the Tennessee Court of the Judiciary, took no action against Judge Baumgartner until after he pleaded guilty on March 10 to one count of “official misconduct,” a Class E felony. As part of the plea agreement offered by Al Schmutzer, Jr., a former Cocke County district attorney who served as a special prosecutor, Baumgartner agreed to resign his post as a Knox County Criminal Court judge.
On March 29, Baumgartner was placed on “interim suspension” by the Tennessee Court of the Judiciary.
That the Court of the Judiciary didn’t catch wind earlier of the ongoing judicial meltdown in Tennessee’s third most populace county is further evidence all is not well in the state court system, suggested Beavers. The Court of the Judiciary is scheduled to “sunset” as of July 1, unless the Tennessee General Assembly passes legislation that says otherwise.
In the event that the COJ is disbanded — an increasingly likely outcome, said Beavers — responsibility for investigating and disciplining judges would revert to the Legislature. Note: WSMV quotes Beavers as saying she believes the votes are in place to terminate the Court of the Judiciary.
Two state legislators say former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner exploited a loophole in state law to collect a $58,800 annual pension and they want to close it.
Sen. Randy McNally and Rep. Bill Dunn have also asked officials for investigations into whether Baumgartner should face further charges and into whether the payments he authorized for defense attorneys in the 2007 Channon Christian-Christopher Newsom murder trials are valid.
The decision Thursday to award new trials in one of Knoxville’s most horrific crimes has opened the floodgates for hundreds, maybe even thousands, of criminals to challenge their cases, reports Jamie Satterfield. Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood acknowledged as much when he ordered up new trials for the four defendants convicted in the January 2007 torture-slayings of University of Tennessee student Channon Christian, 21, and her boyfriend, Christopher Newsom, 23.
Referring to prosecutor Leland Price’s warning that overturning the cases based on “structural error” created by former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner’s own criminal behavior would put “thousands” of cases in jeopardy, Blackwood said in a hearing, “We’re going to have to fight that battle.”
Blackwood said a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe of Baumgartner revealed the former judge confessed to a doctor in 2008 that he was a pill addict and had been committing crimes almost daily until that investigation forced him off the bench earlier this year.
It may be a temporary appointment, but Knox County’s newest judge says he’s in it for the long haul, reports Jamie Satterfield. “I’ll definitely run,” said Steve Sword of next year’s election for the Criminal Court judgeship to which he was appointed Wednesday.
Gov. Bill Haslam announced Wednesday that he had chosen Sword, 41, to take over the bench left vacant when former Judge Richard Baumgartner stepped down earlier this year after pleading guilty to official misconduct for buying prescription painkillers from a felon under his legal thumb.
Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood has been filling in since Baumgartner stepped down.
“He brings the type of character, experience and plan for court administration that Knox County citizens deserve and respect,” Haslam said.
Sword, a 16-year veteran child-abuse prosecutor and judge advocate general in the U.S. Army Reserves, was vying for the appointment against two other well-respected Knox County attorneys — former prosecutor Scott Green and defense attorney Chuck Burks.
The News Sentinel is challenging the sealing from public view of documents that could shed light on the relationship between a disgraced former judge, an addict in a drug court program he oversaw and a pill supplier under his legal thumb.
Attorney Richard Hollow on Monday filed on behalf of News Sentinel Editor Jack McElroy a petition that challenges a decision to keep under wraps documents related to former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner.
The documents were filed in the case of Christopher Gibson, the felon who confessed supplying the ex-judge hundreds of prescription painkillers. Gibson’s court file is scrubbed of any mention of documents believed by the News Sentinel to have been filed in the legal fight over whether Baumgartner should have been compelled to testify in the June 9 sentencing of Gibson on charges he violated his probation by having a gun in his Gap Road house.
However, the documents have twice been referenced in court – first by attorneys at Gibson’s sentencing hearing and next by Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood when, last week, he ordered the investigative file on Baumgartner to be turned over to suspects in a January 2007 torture slaying over whose trials Baumgartner presided.
Rest of the story HERE.