Judge Richard Baumgartner, 66, who became a Criminal Court Judge in Knoxville in 1992, was one of three Knox County judges who heard criminal cases. Suffering from pancreatitis due to chronic alcoholism, Baumgartner eventually became addicted to prescription painkillers.
Many people did not realize that Baumgartner had a problem until he stepped down from the bench in March 2011, entered drug treatment, was disbarred and pleaded guilty to a single count of official misconduct. A special state court judge later imposed a sentence that allowed Baumgartner to avoid jail time, keep his pension and have the conviction expunged if he avoided further legal trouble. [See: PLN, Sept. 2012, p.50].
It wasn't until the results of an investigation were released in November 2011 that the full extent of Baumgartner's drug problem was revealed. That investigation raised questions about whether Baumgartner had been sober enough to sit as a judge during his final two years on the bench, and led to federal charges being filed against him in May 2012.
Meanwhile, another judge threw out the convictions in a high-profile murder case that Baumgartner had presided over, and ordered new trials in other cases. The county is now facing a flood of new trial requests by offenders whose criminal cases were handled by Baumgartner.
County officials fear those requests may overwhelm the local criminal justice system. "We're getting pleadings almost daily now from people in the penitentiary," stated Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols, who said prisoners are "filing habeas corpus [petitions] saying, 'Let me out too.'"
In November 2012, Baumgartner was found guilty in federal court of five counts of misprision of a felony; he was sentenced on April 10, 2013 to six months in prison plus one year of supervised release. The charges stemmed from lies he told to cover up his drug addiction and schemes to get drugs. He was obtaining painkillers from – and having a sexual relationship with – Deena Castleman, a felon on probation under his court's supervision. Baumgartner was married at the time.
"The evidence presented at trial demonstrated that the defendant made material misrepresentations to various officials concerning Deena Castleman in efforts to conceal her participation in a federal prescription drug trafficking conspiracy," the U.S. Attorney's office stated. "The evidence showed that his motive involved her continued participation in the conspiracy so she could provide drugs and sexual favors to him."
Castleman testified at Baumgartner's trial and said the former judge had paid her $250 to $300 for painkillers, including Hydrocodone and Roxycodone, two or three times a week. She stated he also helped her with legal problems, by lying about a urine test she had failed and vouching for her as a good candidate for a drug court program.
At his sentencing hearing, Baumgartner said he was "greatly ashamed that I've had an adverse effect on the judiciary system." He reported to the Bureau of Prisons to begin serving his six-month sentence on May 29, 2013.
Sources: Associated Press, www.wate.com, www.knoxnews.com, www.wbir.com
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