Local legal circles are reeling from the revelation that Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner is under investigation by the TBI and that he has taken a leave of absence from the bench. For the TBI to investigate and, more remarkably, reveal the investigation of a sitting judge of Baumgartner’s reputation, indicates a very serious situation indeed.
Baumgartner is being investigated for drug use and the inevitable question is whether the drugs affected his performance in court—particularly the high-profile cases he generally handled. It is believed that Baumgartner used pain-killers because of a chronic case of very painful pancreatitis.
Looming large is the impact on cases presided over by Baumgartner, primarily a series of trials for the heinous rape and murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom, a crime which shocked the community. It is likely the defendants will seek new trials, if possible, leaving open a question: Will the parents of the slain couple be subjected to the rigors of four new trials, or will the defendants be able to negotiate plea bargains for lesser sentences? Either result will likely outrage the general public.
The first trials were a nightmare, with 177 witnesses, out-of-town jurors, hundreds of items of evidence, and thousands of pages of documents. The trials ended with one death sentence, two life terms, and another term of 59 years.