Disgraced former Knox County Judge Richard Baumgartner faces a federal trial in less than a week. Lawyers for both sides are spending time between now and then hammering out some last-minute rules for the trial.
Attorneys met before Judge Ronnie Greer Thursday afternoon at the federal courthouse in Greeneville where Greer normally works. He was assigned to Baumgartner's trial after all the judges in Knoxville recused themselves.
As of Thursday evening, jury selection is expected to begin, as planned, the morning of Tuesday, October 23. But Judge Greer ruled Thursday that attorneys for both sides have until 2 p.m. Friday at to submit briefs that address "co-conspirator statements" in the case. Those are statements witness Deena Castleman made to other people about the relationship between her and Baumgartner.
Prosecutors want the statements to be allowed, but the defense does not. Judge Greer said he hopes to have a decision by the end of the day on Friday. If he agrees that the statements should not be admitted, then the prosecution has the chance to appeal. That could delay the trial; attorneys and the judge discussed not calling the jury in on Tuesday morning if both sides need time to work on the appeal. If Judge Greer allows the statements, the case will likely move forward as planned.
Attorneys for both sides also argued about admitting details about Baumgartner's sexual relationship with Castleman as evidence. Prosecutors want some of those details allowed. U.S. Attorney David Lewen classified the details as "deviant conduct." But, defense attorney Don Bosch, argued that those details are not relevant to the case and they could prejudice the jury against Baumgartner. Bosch's concern is that a jury could hear details of the sexual relationship between Castleman and Baumgartner, which Bosch said the defense does not contest happened, and make a decision about Baumgartner's guilt based details they might find immoral.
Bosch said those details have nothing to do with the charges Baumgartner faces, which accuse him of lying to cover up a drug trafficking conspiracy that Castleman was allegedly involved in. Judge Greer ruled that the evidence about the sexual relationship is admissible, but the some of the details are not relevant to the case.
Earlier this week, prosecutors filed papers indicating Castleman will testify during the trial.
At Thursday's hearing, Judge Greer also revealed his plan for selecting a jury. He told attorneys that questioning for the jury pool will be "extensive." Judge Greer will question potential jurors individually about their media use if he feels its necessary. Defense attorneys initially asked the judge to select the jury through a written questionnaire; The judge denied that request last week.
If potential jurors indicate knowledge of the Channon Christian and Chris Newsom murders trials, which Baumgartner presided over, and the re-trials currently under litigation in Knox County Court, Judge Greer said he will question them individually about their knowledge of those cases. But, Judge Greer said he does not plan on asking the pool specifically about that case.
Judge Greer also told attorneys on Thursday "he has doubts about finding a jury that has not heard of the case against Baumgartner." If the judge cannot find a jury in Knoxville, he has previously said the case will be moved to the Tri-Cities.
Again, as of now, jury selection is scheduled to begin on Tuesday at the Federal Courthouse in Knoxville.