What will the jury hear? That central issue is now before a federal court just weeks ahead of the trial for a fallen East Tennessee judge.
Attorneys for both sides in the case against former disgraced Knox County Judge Richard Baumgartner argued on Tuesday over ground-rules for his upcoming trial.
The U.S. Attorney's Office indicted Baumgartner in May 2012 on seven counts of misprision of a felony. Prosecutors accuse him of lying to several people, including some state officials, about drug crimes they allege he knew about, and was involved in, with Deena Castleman. She is a graduate of his drug court.
Tuesday's pre-trial conference was held in Greeneville because that is U.S. Magistrate Ronnie Greer's home-base. Judge Greer took over the case a few months ago after all of the federal judges in Knoxville recused themselves from presiding over Baumgartner's trial.
Ultimately, Judge Greer decides how the jury is selected, what information could be excluded from trial, and if the charges are dismissed. Baumgartner and his legal team, Knoxville defense attorneys Don Bosch and Ann Short, left the courthouse Tuesday afternoon to wait for Judge Greer's decisions on those matters.
Among the motions before Judge Greer include defense requests to exclude recorded phone calls involving Castleman they contend are not relevant to the charges. Prosecutors told the judge the recordings prove Baumgartner lied about knowing of, and participating in, her drug trafficking conspiracy. Judge Greer said he will defer decisions on some of those until they come up at trial. The defense filed some of those recordings, and corresponding transcripts, under seal. It is unclear exactly what information they contain.
Bosch told Judge Greer that the court should consider three other defense motions as "mute" at this point. Bosch said prosecutors had agreed before court on Tuesday to not use the term "doctor shopping" and to not discuss details about Baumgartner's alleged sexual escapades with Castleman or discuss the unraveling of the verdicts in trials for the 2007 murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom.
Prosecutors asked the judge to prohibit defense attorneys from discussing possible punishments Baumgartner could receive if a jury convicts him. They also want to block the defense from mentioning any "good deeds" Baumgartner may have committed during his career, his state conviction or his state pension.
They also don't want the judge or the defense to notify the jury it has the power to acquit Baumgartner if it believes he is guilty but do not believe he deserves punishment. Prosecutor Zachary Bolitho told Judge Greer that the jury should make its decision based only on the facts presented about the case and the law. Judge Greer said he is taking those requests in to consideration.
And finally, Judge Greer denied a defense request to select the jury through individual, written questionnaires. The defense argued that is the most efficient way to select an impartial jury for a high-profile case such as this trial. But, Judge Greer partially approved their request to privately interview potential jurors since it is likely some have been "significantly exposed" to media or information about Baumgartner that could influence their decisions.
Defense attorney Ann Short also asked Judge Greer to drop the charges all together. She argued Baumgartner did not commit a federal crime, and therefore should not face the federal charges. Short's request is an appeal of a written decision from U.S. Magistrate Clifford Shirley that denied the defense's initial request to have the charges dropped.
Judge Greer told the attorneys he expects to file written decisions with the court by the end of this week.
Baumgartner's trial is set to begin in Knoxville on October 23, 2012.