A Knoxville Criminal Court judge was so addicted to pain drugs during his last several years serving on the bench that he was having sex and buying prescription drugs on the street during courtroom breaks.
As we discussed here
previously, Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner unbelievably occasionally purchased the drugs from people he had sentenced to prison. Despite the nature of his acts while in office, most people around him did not know that Judge Baumgartner had a problem until months after he stepped down from the bench in March 2011 for a single count of official misconduct. As new allegations continue to surface about his behavior, others question whether he was sober enough to have effectively performed his job.
The high profile Christian/Newsom case was thrown out by a special judge who ordered new trials after revelations of Baumgartner’s illegal acts while on the bench. Many other defendants are lining up for a similar attempt to get their convictions overturned. The requests for new trials could overwhelm the Knox County justice system, as Baumgartner had a prolific caseload, being one of three judges in the county who heard felony criminal cases.
“We’re getting pleadings almost daily now from people in the penitentiary filing habeas corpus saying, ‘Let me out too.’ It’s raining over here,” said Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols.
Baumgartner got away from all of misdeeds relatively unscathed, leaving the bench to enter rehab and then having a judge give him a sentence which permitted him to erase his felony conviction if he stayed out of trouble. The sentence also allowed Baumgartner to avoid jail and keep his full pension. The judge has since said he would have meted out a tougher sentence had he known the full picture.
Nichols now says that he went to speak to Baumgartner in 2010 because he was concerned about the man’s health, never suspecting narcotics could be involved. Little did Nichols know just how bad his former friend had fallen into his addiction. The judge doctor shopped to get his hands on oxycodone, hydrocodone, Xanax and Valium. When he ran out of doctors he turned to ex-convicts, some of whom he sentenced himself.
One large supplier, AP reports, was a woman who graduated from the drug court that Baumgartner created and presided over. The woman regularly provided both pills and sex to the married judge, sometimes during breaks from court in the judge’s chambers. The woman also discusses instances where Baumgartner paid her for drugs and sex as well as provided bail money after an arrest. He went even further and falsified a drug test after she tested positive while on parole.
Another dealer was sold the judge pills during court breaks as well. He says that he gave Baumgartner extra pills when he had to travel to Nashville where the Christian/Newsom jury was being chosen.
Prosecutors are currently appealing the decision to retry the four people convicted in the 2007 slayings of the young couple. Whether the appeal will be successful remains to be seen but it’s clear that Baumgartner’s behavior has damaged the criminal justice in Knox County and that damage will take years to repair.
Tennessee Legislature takes on Judicial Misconduct
(Lee Davis is a Chattanooga attorney who can be reached at email@example.com or at 266-0605.)