The Christian/Newsom case saw another development Thursday as defense attorneys Tom Dillard and Stephen Ross Johnson responded to the prosecution’s motion to have Judge Blackwood removed due to supposed unethical conduct. The defense fired back with a motion of their own accusing district attorney Randy Nichols and his staff of hiding information about Judge Baumgartner’s misconduct while he was still presiding over the case.
The defense counsel’s motion said that they agree that a motion to recuse was appropriate and should have been granted, however, the motion should not be against the current judge. “A motion to recuse should have been filed years ago in this case concerning Judge Baumgartner.
The current controversy involves the decision by Judge Blackwood to order new trials of the defendants in the Christian/Newsom murder case following news that Judge Baumgartner was addicted to narcotic pills and abused his position to win sexual favors from some of those that he presided over. An investigation by the TBI showed that many of the crimes were committed while Baumgartner was presiding over the Christian/Newsom murder trials.
Previous releases of information have made clear that others were aware of Baumgartner’s misdeed. For instance, two prosecutors who were working on the Christian/Newsom case reported seeing Baumgartner swearing his way down I-40 following jury selection in Nashville for Vanessa Coleman’s trial. It was also revealed that District Attorney Nichols confronted Baumgartner about such behavior and that the judge admitted to drinking a bottle of wine every night to help him sleep.
The defense attorneys brought forward not only these known instances of prosecutorial awareness of Baumgartner’s problems but another not previously made public: “During this visit, former Judge Baumgartner told Mr. Nichols that he was drinking a bottle of wine a night while at the same time going to the Bradford Rehabilitation Clinic (an outpatient center in Knoxville) and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.”
Not only did Nichols allegedly know this information, but he also kept it secret from the defense attorneys in the Christian/Newsom case. The defense said that there were many other cases before Judge Baumgartner at the time and that attorneys across the region with clients before the judge would have wanted to know about his conduct. The motion said that despite this “extraordinary step of an ex parte direct inquiry of Judge Baumgartner about his problems…” nothing was ever disclosed by Nichols or his office.
For his part, Nichols’ special counsel, John Gill, responded to the allegations saying that the District Attorney’s meeting with Baumgartner had nothing to do with any particular case and therefore was not ex parte contact.
Ex parte communication refers to any contact between a judge and one party of the case without the presence of the other party. Such communication is frowned upon. The prosecution has hinted that the current judge, Blackwood, has engaged in such contact with unidentified people and has complained that it is objectionable. The defense denies any such one-sided communication with the judge, as has Blackwood.
Read: “DA Randy Nichols hid signs of ex-judge Richard Baumgartner's misdeeds, attorneys contend,” by Jamie Satterfield, published at KnoxNews.com.
(Lee Davis is a Chattanooga attorney who can be reached at email@example.com or at 266-0605.)