Richard Baumgartner in federal court. Sketch by: Mike C. Berry
Disgraced former Knox County Judge Richard Baumgartner appeared in federal court on Tuesday for jury selection for his trial.
Baumgartner sat engaged in the court proceedings, looking at the people who could be chosen to decide his fate. But, he also appeared stoic and calm throughout the day. The court has recognized that his case is a bit unusual since the defendant is a former judge.
U.S. Magistrate Ronnie Greer, and attorneys for both sides, started the process of questioning a pool of 129 jurors from the Eastern District of Tennessee. This is one of the largest jury pools ever called to the federal courthouse in Knoxville. Potential jurors are being questioned in groups of 32; one group made it through questioning on Tuesday, leaving 91 people still waiting to be interviewed.
The goal dis to end up with 12 jurors and two alternates. Tuesday, Judge Greer released eight potential jurors from the pool for reasons like health issues, time conflicts, and firm opinions about Baumgartner that they acknowledged to have already made.
To weed out the pool further, Judge Greer asked potential jurors about topics including, media use and where they get their information, whether they know Baumgartner, and whether they have ever worked for local law enforcement or the federal government.
Tuesday afternoon, Judge Greer and attorneys for both sides also questioned some jurors individually. These were people who indicated opinion in earlier questioning or alluded to knowledge of the Christian-Newsom murder trials that Baumgartner presided over in recent years.
The purpose of this line of questions is to make sure some of the prospective jurors do not think this trial has anything to do with the retrials for the defendants in those murder cases. Simply put, it does not. They are two separate issues, as Baumgartner's defense attorney Don Bosch hammered in to court record throughout the day.
Judge Greer has classified Baumgartner's legal troubles as high profile. He has previously told attorneys that he's pessimistic about finding a jury in the Eastern District of Tennessee that does not have a lot of knowledge about this case. Bosch also told the court in hearings preceding the trial that it would be a "difficult battle to educate the jury not to treat Mr. Baumgartner differently because he was a judge."
The judge has previously said if the court could not find a jury in Knox County, he would more than likely move the trial to Greeneville and select a jury from the Tri-Cities. It is still unclear when the judge will decide whether to move the trial.
Baumgartner is charged with seven counts of "misprision of a felony." This means he's accused of knowingly concealing a drug trafficking conspiracy involving Deena Castleman. She was a graduate of Baumgartner's Knox County Drug Court. Prosecutors have said they will prove that Castleman illegally bought and delivered prescription pills including oxycodone, roxycodone and Xanax to the former judge.
The government also alleges some of those exchanges occurred at the Knoxville CityCounty Building, while Baumgartner was still on the bench. He is not on trial for being part of the conspiracy himself. Prosecutors have the burden to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Baumgartner knowingly lied to cover up Castleman's involvement.
Judge Greer has asked the jury pool to return Wednesday at 9 a.m. 10News will be there as the process continues, and throughout the trial. The judge said he expects the trial to last six to eight days.