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Ex-Tenn. judge sentenced in drugs, sex scheme

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 10, 2013 at 4:12 pm •  Published: April 10, 2013

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A former circuit judge in Tennessee has been sentenced to six months in federal prison for lying to cover up a scheme that provided him with painkillers and sex.

Richard Baumgartner expressed remorse at his sentencing Wednesday in federal court, saying he was greatly shamed and regretted his actions. The 65-year-old former judge from Knoxville was convicted in November of five counts of misprision of a felony.

Authorities said he lied to cover up a conspiracy involving a defendant from his court, a woman about half his age who had supplied him with pills and sex. The woman, Deena Castleman, had been a defendant in Baumgartner's drug court.

A Tennessee Bureau of Investigation also found that starting around 2007 through his resignation in 2011, Baumgartner was using large amounts of painkillers while presiding over trials and had purchased drugs inside the courthouse. Castleman told agents of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation that she and the judge even engaged in sexual activity several times in the judge's chambers. She was sentenced to serve six years in prison for convictions that included possession of prescription painkillers.

"I will forever be remorseful for any disgrace I have brought to that profession," Baumgartner said Wednesday in court.

Baumgartner had previously avoided jail time when he resigned from the bench and pleaded guilty in March 2011 to a state charge of official misconduct.

But federal prosecutors requested that Baumgartner serve two years in prison on the federal charge. They said his actions seriously disrupted the Knox County court system and nearly a half-dozen retrials were granted in cases he had presided over, including highly publicized murder trials in the torture slaying of a young Knoxville couple.

Greer said the decision to sentence Baumgartner to prison was one of the hardest he had made as a judge.

"Judges ought to be held to a higher standard," Greer said, adding Baumgartner's conduct was a violation of the public trust and threatened the integrity of the justice system.

Joy McCroskey, the Knox County criminal court clerk, testified during the sentencing hearing and said Baumgartner's actions created extra work for her office. Special judges were brought in to handle his cases and retrials were granted for two out of four defendants in the January 2007 slayings of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom, she said.

One of the defendants, Vanessa Coleman, of Lebanon, Ky., was convicted for a second time for helping three men in the attack that killed 21-year-old Christian, who investigators said was kidnapped, raped, tortured and left to die.

McCroskey explained that the court had to pay for a new trial and the costs of housing a sequestered jury in the Coleman retrial.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary Bolitho argued that Baumgartner's actions caused families of victims to endure retrials.

"This is a case that cries out for justice," Bolitho said. "People have been hurt."

Baumgartner said many people asked him why he did what he did, but he said, "I don't have an answer to that question."

He said he, like many addicts, thought he could handle his addiction, but it became a nightmare that consumed all his resources. "I cannot offer it as an excuse," Baumgartner said shortly before being sentenced. "It can offer some insight into my conduct at the time."

He also said he regretted putting victims' families through the retrials.

His attorney, Donald Bosch, argued Baumgartner deserved probation instead of a prison sentence and noted that he was unemployable because he had been disbarred. Baumgartner, who is married and has children, got physically emotional when he tried to talk about hurting his family and friends.

"The hardest thing for me is I can't do anything to fix this," he said. "I can't turn the clock back."

Bosch told the judge he planned to appeal the sentence.

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