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Judge to decide whether to unseal complete TBI investigation of Baumgartner

5:40 PM, Jul 2, 2013   |    comments
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(WBIR, Knoxville) A criminal court judge by the end of next week will decide whether to release confidential portions of state files connected to the investigation into former Knox County Judge Richard Baumgartner.

Baumgartner, who was addicted to prescription pain pills, oversaw the trials of the four people convicted in the 2007 torture, rape, and murder of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom. And now their families want to know how the judge got away with his drug abuse for so long.

They hope the information contained in the files put together by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation will provide some insight.

On Tuesday, local attorney Herbert Moncier, who represents the Christian and Newsom families, asked Special Judge Walter Kurtz to release up to 2,000 additional pages.

During the hearing, Moncier noted that the state's constitution guarantees the public access to review documents filed with the court and used in court decisions.   

Kurtz, though, said there are some exceptions, such as the identities of rape victims.

This isn't the first time officials have discussed whether to make the file public.

For example, in December 2011, Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood unsealed redacted portions, revealing Baumgartner's years of prescription pain pill abuse, doctor-shopping and a sexual relationship with one of his suppliers. The investigation ultimately resulted in Baumgartner's conviction, and new trials for the four charged in the Christian/Newsom case.

Moncier says that Blackwood at the time considered the entire contents of the TBI file while making decisions on the bench and then selected the 52 released pages in support of his decisions.

Three months later, Blackwood ruled that the remaining documents would remain confidential because they include private information about various people who aren't relevant to pending cases.

Prosecutor Linda Kirklen unsuccessfully argued that the families shouldn't be allowed to intervene now since the case is finished. (Baumgartner was sentenced to six-months in federal prison for his crimes.)

She also argued that the documents may contain untrue and hurtful allegations that would do more damage if released.

Further, Kirklen noted that state law protects the confidentiality of TBI files.

Kurtz didn't necessarily agree, but did contend that TBI investigators may have a more difficult time getting people to talk honestly if they fear their confidential files may  be made public.

The hearing left both families feeling dissapointed in the justice system.

Gary Christian said he was upset that the defense teams for the people convicted of murdering his daughter had access to the files, but he does not.

"They can pick and choose whatever they want to use in that courtroom. They can do whatever they want to. It's 100% living proof there are no victim's rights," said Christian.

Hugh Newsom agreed.

"Our justice system is in desperate need of repair. It's not just bent, it's broke," said Newsom.

Judge Kurtz said he will make a decision by the end of next week.

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