Why Keep Secrets?

Thus far, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation file on former Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner remains sealed. We talked with some people who read TBI investigation files and asked why, given the high-profile case of the drug-taking judge, it should not be made a public record.

While refusing to discuss the Baumgartner case in specifics, they offered reasons why TBI investigation files should remain confidential:

• The public narrative of a case like Baumgartner is well known after an arrest and conviction. If there were any smoking guns in the file, the prosecution or defense would have produced them.

• TBI interviews often contain allegations against innocent people. Though they are part of the file, they are unsubstantiated gossip, unproven, and could be harmful to innocent people on the periphery of the case.

• If TBI interviews and evidence gathering is known to be a public record, it could have a chilling effect on future cases. People would be reluctant to talk candidly if they knew their comments could appear in the media. Files sometimes contain information from other law enforcement agencies, like the FBI, and disclosure could dry up cooperation.