Constitutional Law

Judge Agrees to Unseal Records re Former Fellow Jurist

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A Tennessee judge has agreed to unseal records concerning former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner.

Baumgartner, who previously oversaw a drug court program, abruptly stepped down from the bench earlier this year. He has pleaded guilty to a criminal official misconduct charge and sought addiction treatment, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.

The newspaper, which was a party seeking the unsealing of the records, says they may shed further light on the relationship between the judge and a criminal defendant who was reportedly supplying him with unspecified pills.

Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood sentenced Baumgartner to two years, but put him in a diversion program that will allow him to expunge his conviction if he complies with his sentence and stays clean. It has previously been reported that this could help Baumgartner preserve his retirement benefits.

“I apologize if I’ve been a little slow and a little overly cautious,” said Blackwood during a hearing yesterday concerning the records issue. There are 11 pending cases that Baumgartner was handling that may be subject to challenge, according to the newspaper, and Blackwood said, “I hope the public realizes there are significant, significant difficulties we face.”

He previously ordered an investigative file concerning Baumgartner to be turned over to lawyers for four defendants.

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