On March 10, the now-former Knox County Criminal Court judge Richard Baumgartner pleaded guilty to official misconduct. As part of a plea agreement, he agreed to resign his position. Just a few weeks later, he was placed on “interim suspension” by the Tennessee Court of the Judiciary. Now, the cases that Judge Baumgartner oversaw during his time on the bench are getting a second-look as people wonder if he was in his right mind during proceedings.
Baumgartner reportedly had a prescription drug problem. A problem that would have him taking drugs in his chambers during the work day and associating with drug dealers, at least one of whom he met when overseeing his case.
So far, four defendants have been granted retrials in their cases. A serious case involving the kidnapping, rape, torture and murder of two young adults is at the center of these retrials. A Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe revealed that Baumgartner was “likely under the influence of drugs” when he presided over this case, where one defendant was sentenced to die, two to 52 years to life, and one to 22 years.
During the time period that it’s suspected Baumgartner was “doctor shopping” he disposed of 3,341 cases. Some news outlets are saying anywhere between dozens and thousands of cases could be subject to review in light of the judge’s problems though the Knox County District Attorney General’s Office says less than 40 retrials are likely.
One of the major questions about this situation is, why didn’t anyone do anything? If Baumgartner was addicted to prescription drugs to the point that he was using in his chambers, it’s likely that some people knew. Were they afraid to come forward or did they think the addiction wouldn’t affect his ability to fairly interpret and apply the laws?
Prescription drug abuse is at a high in the state of Tennessee and all over the country. This just goes to show that it isn’t only one segment of the population that is affected by drug addiction and abuse. People from all walks of life can be vulnerable to it.
Fortunately, if you are charged criminally with a drug crime, it can provide the opportunity to get help. A drug court, like the Knox County Drug Court program that was ironically co-founded by judge Baumgartner, can get defendants access to treatment and other assistance.
If you are charged with a drug offense, contact our offices today for a consultation. We can offer our legal help to you at this difficult time.