Baumgartner's plea and pension remain intact

7:59 PM, Dec 5, 2011   |    comments
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Richard Baumgartner

A redacted file containing the full TBI investigation into former Judge Richard Baumgartner's illegal activities was made public Thursday.  In the days since the sordid details of the judge's drug addiction to painkilling narcotics came to light, more questions have been raised than answered regarding how his transgressions will impact the Knox County courts.

As for the personal impact on Baumgartner, many have asked whether the former judge may face any additional criminal charges.  Likewise, some wondered if the long-time judge will remain eligible to receive state-funded retirement benefits.

March Plea Agreement

Baumgartner pleaded guilty to felony official misconduct on March 10, 2011.  He avoided jail-time when he was sentenced to probation and given judicial diversion. 

Baumgartner also avoided having the entire TBI file released during his official misconduct plea.  Even special judge Jon Kerry Blackwood remained unaware of all of the evidence against Baumgartner.  Prosecuting attorney Al Schmutzer primarily presented evidence related to Baumgartner's drug deals with Chris Gibson and the official misconduct regarding Gibson's probation.

Blackwood openly lamented the plea deal given to Baumgartner after learning the full extent of the drug deals, sexual conduct, and falsified drug tests.

"You don't just wrap that up and call it 'official misconduct,'" said Blackwood during Thursday's hearing.  "I call it committing a crime."

Yet, those crimes will not be prosecuted.  Baumgartner's plea agreement states, "This concludes all matters concerning this investigation."

Pension Protection

Judicial diversion means Baumgartner is not technically a convicted felon unless he breaks the condition of his probation and judicial diversion.  Therefore, Baumgartner remained eligible to receive his pension.

Blake Fontenay with the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury told 10News that Baumgartner applied for and began receiving retirement benefits in March.  At that point he had served more than 22 years as an employee of the state.

"His [Baumgartner's] current gross monthly TCRS benefit is approximately $4900," wrote Fontenay.  "Judge Baumgartner had over 22 years of service and was included in the Judges retirement group. The Judges retirement group has a higher benefit formula than general employees."

Regarding evidence recently made public of Baumgartner's illegal drug deals, Fontenay said the former judge would have to be convicted of a crime related to performance of his job duties to suspend his benefits.

"Judge Baumgartner was given a judicial diversion, thus he has not been convicted," said Fontenay.  "Only if Judge Baumgartner does not follow the conditions of the judicial diversion, will he, at that time, be convicted and his TCRS benefit suspended."

Fontenay said Baumgartner became eligible for retirement benefits at the time he terminated his employment because he met the age 60 eligibility criteria.  Baumgartner is currently 64-years-old.

Baumgartner worked extensively with the Knox County Drug Court during his tenure as judge.  Knox County Human Resources said Baumgartner did not receive payment from the county and is not collecting any retirement benefits.

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