Baumgartner's "sordid" illegal activity detailed

7:41 AM, Dec 2, 2011   |    comments
  • Deena Castleman
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A redacted version of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's (TBI) file on former judge Richard Baumgartner is more than 1,200 pages long.

On Thursday special judge Jon Kerry Blackwood condensed much of that evidence into a 19-page presentation that included transcripts of testimony from several witnesses about Baumgartner's addiction and illegal conduct.

"Doctor shopping"

Kroger pharmacy records revealed a pattern of Baumgartner simultaneously obtaining prescriptions from multiple doctors from 2006 until 2010.  The narcotic painkillers mostly consisted of Oxycodone and Hydrocodone.  At one point witnesses stated Baumgartner was consuming 10 to 20 narcotic painkillers per day.

Blackwood's presentation of evidence stated that Dr. Dean Conley of Knoxville Gastroenterology became concerned with Baumgartner's dependence on the narcotics in 2008 and urged the judge to retire.  Baumgartner admitted he was addicted, but "stated he needed three more years" on the bench.

Conley testified he was unaware that Baumgartner was obtaining prescriptions from other doctors.  Records show Baumgartner received prescriptions from five different doctors, including Conley.

Street drug deals

Pharmacies were not Baumgartner's only source for pain pills.  The former judge bought large amounts of pain pills from street drug dealers.  Many times the transactions were set up by Baumgartner with phone calls from his office.

"Every time he used that phone in his office to make a drug deal, it's a crime. And it extended for a long period of time," said Blackwood.

One primary source was Christopher Gibson.  Testimony from Gibson and multiple other witnesses described how Baumgartner would regularly visit Gibson's residence to "get Hydros and Percocets."  Other drug users at the residence referred to judge Baumgartner as "JB."

Witnesses testified that JB was seen buying pills from Gibson that he would then swallow and or snort.  "JB usually came during the day, at lunch, on Court breaks and Sunday after church."

Gibson became a supplier for Baumgartner after he was introduced by another one of the former judge's suppliers: Deena Castleman.

Castleman Conduct

Much of Thursday's evidence centered on Baumgartner's relationship with Deena Castleman.  Baumgartner met Castleman when she was an addict who had graduated from his Drug Court in 2006.

Castleman approached Baumgartner in 2008 to request help obtaining a job.  Instead, Baumgartner used Castleman to feed his own addiction.  He stated to her "that he loved his opiates" and gave Castleman "$200 to purchase Hydros." 

"Didn't she have at least a right to keep that judge from turning her right back into being a drug addict so he could get his pills," Blackwood stated with a shout on Thursday.

Castleman and Judge Baumgartner began "a sexual thing" after their meeting at the City County Building.  Sometimes the sexual encounters occurred at Baumgartner's office.

"On three occasions, Ms. Castleman testified that they had sexual relations right back there [in Baumgartner's office]," said Blackwood.

Baumgartner visited Castleman's trailer in Powell up to three times a week to buy illegal pain pills.  Baumgartner also helped pay Castleman's utility bills.  The former judge knew his activity was being noticed by neighbors and he asked Castleman to leave the trailer park.

Baumgartner also provided financial assistance to Castleman when she experienced legal troubles.  The Judge provided third parties with cash to bail Castleman out of jail and pay for defense attorneys.  Baumgartner also deposited $50 in Castleman's jail account.

Hospital visits and flower power

Castleman was hospitalized at St. Mary's with a blood infection during the Cobbins case.  Baumgartner "visited her on a daily basis during breaks in the trial and after court."  Castleman was Baumgartner's sole source of pills at this time.  She would have people deliver pills to her hospital room and then sell them to Baumgartner during his visits.

Hospital staff became suspicious of the judge's visits because they would always close the door, claiming they required privacy for attorney-client discussions.  Nurses noticed Castleman routinely "getting high" on drugs while hospitalized.  Nurse Margaret Hinkle stated she "dreaded seeing the trial Judge coming" because she "knew Castleman would soon be messed up."  After one visit from Baumgartner, Hinkle stated "Castleman was high as a kite."  Hinkle was angered and would make it a point to address Baumgartner as "Judge" to alert him that she was aware of his identity.

On several occasions, the nurses attempted to deny Baumgartner access to Castleman.  The "no visitors" signs angered Baumgartner and he "raised hell."  On October 28, a doctor at the hospital wrote that there would be no visitor for Castleman except Judge Baumgartner.

In October 2009 a litany of unprescribed pain pills were found in a flower pot in Deena Castleman's room.  Police charged her with possession of a controlled substance.  The flowers were brought to Castleman by Baumgartner.

Following this episode, Castleman introduced Baumgartner to Christopher Gibson to provide the judge with another source of narcotics.

Members of the District Attorney's office saw Castleman with Baumgartner in Chattanooga one evening during jury selection.

"Clean" Lies

In 2010, former judge Baumgartner contacted Annette Beebe at the YWCA to request housing for Castleman.  Beebe served as the transitional housing director at the YWCA.

After Castleman moved in, Beebe became suspicious that she was still using drugs.  Beebe told Castleman to take a "drug screen" at the courthouse to continue living at the YWCA.

Judge Baumgartner accompanied Castleman to the drug test and told the administrative assistant, Helen White, to remain outside the bathroom while Castleman provided a urine sample.  Tests are normally conducted with a witness to ensure the sample came from the person being tested.

It was later learned that Castleman had obtained a urine sample from another resident at the YWCA and provided that person's urine to White.  The plan to switch urine went awry when the donor's sample tested positive for drugs.

When the urine tested positive for drugs, Baumgartner personally called Beebe at the YWCA and lied about the test results.  Baumgartner stated that the test showed Deena Castleman was clean.  Beebe did not believe the statement and eventually evicted Castleman for "being in active addiction."

"Do what you can"

Deena Castleman faced drug charges following her arrest at St. Mary's.  Baumgartner approached Knox County General Sessions Judge Andrew Jackson about the case.  Baumgartner told Jackson the "girl was doing well in Drug Court" and that he was trying to turn Castleman's life around.

Jackson stated that no other judge has ever approached him in the manner Baumgartner did regarding a case.

Assistant District Attorney Jeff Blevins was the prosecutor in the Castleman cases.  Testimony from Blevins stated that Baumgartner approached him about the Castleman cases and stated that she was a good attendee in Drug Court.

Baumgartner asked Blevins to, "Do for her what you can."  Blevins said this was very unusual and he had never had a judge ask for a favor before.  Additionally, Blevins doubted Baumgartner's claims because Castleman was also facing charges for DUI.

Judicial Intervention

Testimony from several court workers described erratic behavior by Baumgartner.  Lisa Mooneyham, Knox County Drug Court Officer, said she observed Baumgartner "out of it" on the bench.  Mooneyham also observed Castleman go to the judge's office and confronted her for being "high." 

Assistant DA Leland Price noticed odd behavior by Baumgartner.  He noted the judge was late for the first day of jury selection of George Thomas.  Price also noticed the judge receiving multiple phone calls during the day and calling for recess.

Price as well as Assistant DA Takisha Fitzgerald observed Baumgartner almost cause an accident on Interstate 40 when he "was weaving all over the road."  Baumgartner later told Price and Fitzgerald that he was having back problems and taking medication.

District Attorney Randy Nichols became concerned in 2010 with the Judge's health and went to Baumgartner's home to discuss the issues.  Baumgartner told Nichols that he was simply "drinking too much" wine because he was having trouble sleeping.

Judge and Judy

Jennifer Judy served as the trial court's administrative assistant for five years and noticed Baumgartner's health problems in the winter of 2008.

Judy had to reschedule some court matters due to Baumgartner's impairment.  There were days she told Baumgartner he did not need to be on the bench.

One such occasion was the verdict for the Vanessa Coleman trial.  Judy observed Baumgartner put his head down and passed him a note that said, "Sit up or get off the bench" because he was disrespecting the families of the victims.  Baumgartner responded by writing a note back to Judy filled with expletives.

Judy also confronted Baumgartner about Castleman's visits to his office.  Judy told the judge the visits were inappropriate.

Baumgartner instructed Judy to cash checks on a regular basis.  She was asked to deliver a sealed letter to Castleman outside the City County Building on one occasion and believed it to be filled with cash.

During Thursday's hearing, Judge Blackwood praised Judy for her bravery and courage in confronting Baumgartner about his behavior.

"Ticked off"

Judge Blackwood repeatedly expressed his disgust with Baumgartner's behavior.  Blackwood also stated that he was "ticked off" after reading a statement by Baumgartner in the newspapers that the former judge wished his colleagues would have done something about his addiction.

"The only way to assign responsibility is to put it right there on him [Baumgartner]," said Blackwood, explaining the multiple occasions when coworkers expressed concern about the judge's health and behavior.

Blackwood expressed sympathy for the families of the victims who must endure another trial.  He also said Baumgartner's behavior "destroys the integrity of the judicial process."

"He knew what he was doing was wrong.  I don't know if you call that 'judicial corruption,' stupidity, or arrogance, but I call it committing a crime," said Blackwood.  "He knew it.  He knew it."

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