Dec 5 2011
06:54 pm

We expected some spin, but this is over the top.

Even though KNS reporter Jamie Satterfield sat through nearly every day of the Christian-Newsom murder trials, she says she didn't notice anything amiss with the judge.

In an online "chat" with KNS readers today she said "What I saw was a man who on most days functioned fine but who on occassion [sic] seemed sick and tired. He had an explanation for that. It is documented that he suffered pancreatitis. He used his health as an excuse."

(A direct question about whether she or any other reporter observed a problem or heard any rumors or investigated it went unanswered in today's "chat.")

Not only is the KNS exploiting their tabloid coverage of the trials, now the KNS editor is saying the KNS and Jamie Satterfield deserve credit for breaking the news that Baumgartner was an impaired drug addict presiding over the most sensational murder trial in recent history.

Seriously? Sounds like a major ass-covering operation to me. Shame on the KNS for blowing a huge story, and for helping put the victim's families through hell once again.

kag's picture

I have no idea what anyone at

I have no idea what anyone at the Sentinel knew or suspected, and it's important to note that a reporter's decision whether or not to do anything meaningful with any info would be entirely discretionary, as opposed to the well defined disclosure/reporting requirements of members of the Bar, sworn officers of the court, and law enforcement professionals.

18 months ago I would have argued that there was no way anyone in the newsroom at our Ilocal newspaper of record could have POSSIBLY known or suspected anything because if anyone had, that journalist would have gone to his/her editorial leadership with the lead - no matter how preliminary - and with editors' guidance & support, a thorough, aggressive and unbiased investigation would have been undertaken to determine whether there was anything that the public needed to know.

To my very painful regret, I can no longer rely on that being the way any info, suspicions or tips regarding a potential story of this magnitude would have been handled.

What I will say are these 2 things:

1 -If I myself were currently serving in a leadership position with any relevant local law enforcement agency or other organization or institution with a connection to Baumgartner's office, or with any local media outlet, I would not be issuing any reactionary, knee jerk denial that there is no possibility that anyone in my organization failed to act appropriately on information - preliminary or otherwise - regarding this horrifying judicial scandal. Instead, I would respond to questions by saying that the gravity of the situation requires honest internal review and reflection to be certain that all those under my supervision acted at all times as required by professional, regulatory and legal standards. I would let anyone with questions know that once this rigorous internal review and organizational self-reflection was complete, I'd be able to respond in a more authentic and meaningful way. If I were Randy Nichols, I'd be voluntarily asking for an external reviewer to handle this task, with oversight from the appropriate regulatory arm of the state judiciary, and I would be assuring the public that the final report of that external audit would be available without redaction to the public once it was complete. These immediate, total, defensive denials of any possible misconduct or even of any errors in judgment by the entire local power structure - government and media - is very troubling to me. Where is the self reflection? Where is the acknowledgement of how possible missteps on the part of those who should have or could have prevented this horrible runaway train might be worthy of apology or ownership? I don't see ANYONE in a leadership position doing anythinRg but denying all possibility tht ANYONE within their organizations possibly behaved in a way that was less than optimal.

2 - If the Knoxville News Sentinel had spent half the time and energy in the past year truly investigating Baumgartner and his office staff that they've spent painting my dead teenage son who had NO criminal record and whom NO ONE has ever accused of hurting anyone as some sort of Ted Bundy-slash-drug-kingpin, this would be a safer community. While I certainly appreciate the KNS taking what turned out to be relatively minimal legal effort to unseal those TBI files, where's the salacious, over the top front page story about Baumgartner's activities like the (trashy, error-laden) front page potboiler they concocted about my child, who was murdered by the same type of adult drug dealers whom Baumgartner frequented and protected?

When the local newspaper manages to make a teenage OD victim and his outspoken grieving mama look worse over the course of a year of news coverage than the most outrageously corrupt and criminal drug-dealing, prostitute-soliciting, addict judge perhaps in state history, there's something fundamentally wrong. Nitpick and split hairs all you want, but seriously, in the big picture, something's very wrong there with that newspaper's leadership and core values.

-Katie Allison Granju
Knoxville, TN

PS: please excuse what I assume are multiple typos. Typing on iPhone in dark with one hand while rocking my 1 year old to sleep.

Addendum: For purposes of absolute attention to factual detail, my son Henry was arrested one time about 10 weeks before he died at age 18. He and his girlfriend were parked in a subdivision, doing what 18 year olds in love do. Henry was charged with possession on a prescribed antidepressant for which he had no prescription and public indecency. No one in our family bailed him out and we began trying to talk with someone in Knox County's criminal court system about how we could use the arrest to get him into drug treatment. But he was released after 72 hours becuse he was a nonviolent 1st offender. That's the sum total of his criminal record. And then he died.

rikki's picture

Regarding the coverage of

Regarding the coverage of this story, I am quite taken aback by the way this has been framed primarily as part of the Christian-Newsom saga. It is far bigger than that, and fixating on one case only serves as cover for the judge and other culpable players.

The judge spoiled not just that case, but dozens or hundreds more, many of which involved violence and tragedy. The Chipman St killings are a symbol of the cost of Baumgartner's behavior, but in terms of dollar amount, the many appeals to come will rival and surpass the cost of retrying those cases.

More troubling still is the likelihood that the judge's consorts received favorable treatment from him and from those he may have manipulated. In other words, Baumgartner's convictions may be less of a problem than his acquittals, delays and diversions. At least one pill dealer in town had a pretty good ace in the hole courtesy of the judge.

kag's picture

Rikki, You raise a very

Rikki, You raise a very important point that I haven't seen addressed substantively yet by local media. The small chunk of the TBI file that's public leaves no doubt that multiple drug dealers, active drug abusers associated with those dealers, and pimps had direct or indirect knowledge that Baumgartner was one of their own. In my opinion, the odds that Baumgartner was never blackmailed to some degree are very low. When local criminals are actively peddling narcotics and human beings (sex trafficking) to the top dog criminal and drug-case jurist in the same community, there are going to be repercussions in the way drug-related investigators & prosecutions are handled within the agencies dependent on that judge to work with them on the cases they actually care about. Why is no one asking about Christoper Gibson's claim to the court that before Baumgartner was getting drugs from Gibson, he was being supplied by "law enforcement." As it happens, pretty much every other claim Gibson made regarding Baumgartner turned out to be true. I raised this line of questions in more details here: (link...)

FYI - NBC's Dateline is currently working on a story about how and why Knox County authorities handled my son's case the way they did. With the new info regarding Baumgartner's criminal activity over at least the past 4 years, I suspect they will be looking very closely at how having a criminal drug dealer and active participant in human trafficking occupying what is arguably the most powerful seat in our county's entire criminal justice system might have impacted how Henry's case and others like it have been treated.

rikki's picture

I remember seeing pictures of

I remember seeing pictures of Baumgartner during that trial and thinking he looked like warmed-over hell, but I'm not sure how anyone could be expected to look beyond the obvious -- he's an old man in failing health -- and wonder whether he might be consorting with drug dealers. It takes a major dose of hindsight to claim that Satterfield or even the attorneys practicing before him should have deduced that the judge was experiencing anything but medical issues.

It's not clear to me who has responsibility for this other than the judge himself. In an ideal world, judges would be of adequate moral caliber to police themselves, but that is obviously too high a standard for elected, partisan judges. Clearly, DA Nichols knew the problem was serious, and he had a direct interest in the integrity of not only the Chipman St murder trials, but numerous additional trials as well. He seems like the best candidate for "should have known and did not do enough."

Andy Axel's picture

Aunt B speaks for

Aunt B speaks for me.


Let me tell you why I don’t believe that Satterfield knew Baumgartner was on drugs. It’s in part because of how she wrote about Henry Granju. He was “strung-out, broke, and essentially homeless.” He was a “hard-core” addict. He “craved” drugs. He was “scrounging” and “pill-sick.” I mean, he basically sounds like he was some kind of movie monster, like a zombie shuffling through the streets of Knoxville moaning “pills, pills” instead of “brains, brains.”

And maybe he was. Let’s be fair.

Except that there’s nothing in Satterfield’s story to indicate that Satterfield talked to anyone for that story, except for law enforcement. Everything in that story that describes Granju, if I’m reading that story correctly, is based on Satterfield’s extrapolation from the police file, not on actual interviews she did with Granju’s friends and family and, hell, enemies about how he behaved and presented himself. In other words, everything in that story that is descriptive of Granju’s behavior is based on Satterfield’s supposition of how drug addicts act.

And if that’s what Satterfield thinks a drug addict looks like, then it’s little wonder that she could sit in Baumgartner’s courtroom for weeks on end and not realize he is a drug addict as well.

kag's picture

FYI - this is what my teenage

FYI - this is what my teenage drug addict looked like (and at least 2 of those photos were taken during the specific period the Sentinel claimed to accurately portray
in that horrible story they published ) - (link...)

And here's one more, taken about 5.5 months before he died, right after his birthday. I love this one:


(Also, Henry would have totally loved it if someone had written a zombie genre story in which he got to make an appearance ;-) )

Rich Hailey's picture

Challenge accepted...

Challenge accepted...

Factchecker's picture

Maybe not so old, but it's all relative, I guess

-- he's an old man...

63 or 64.

bizgrrl's picture

Exactly. When R said

Exactly. When R said something about him being in his 60s I had to look it up. I thought he was in his 70s or 80s.

Rich Hailey's picture

Hell Has Frozen Over!

Mr. Neal and I have come down on the same side of an issue. McElroy's blog post was nothing more than an attempt to spin the truth, and a pretty lousy attempt at that.

Here's why his attempt to excuse his reporter is bilge water:

Satterfield says that she 'confronted' the judge about passing out during the trial and that she was satisfied with his answer that he was having health issues. A real reporter would have then asked a very simple follow up question. "If you are so sick that you can't even stay awake during the trial, why did you insist on sitting all four trials?"

After all, based on Blackwood's ruling, it wasn't just the illegal acts Baumgartner performed during the trial that caused the verdicts to be vacated; it was his drug induced intoxication, and he would have been equally 'wasted', as Satterfield put it, whether the drugs were obtained legally or illegally.

And that, folks, makes Baumgartner's excuse ridiculous on its face, and should have triggered Satterfield's curiosity.

It didn't, and now McElroy is trying to spin away her incompetence.

I responded to his post with a couple of questions, but the comment has not made it through moderation hell yet. The short version is simply this:

What good is a newspaper that either cannot or will not report the news?

Bbeanster's picture

After all, based on

After all, based on Blackwood's ruling, it wasn't just the illegal acts Baumgartner performed during the trial that caused the verdicts to be vacated; it was his drug induced intoxication, and he would have been equally 'wasted', as Satterfield put it, whether the drugs were obtained legally or illegally.

Agreed. He was incapable of fulfilling his legal obligation as "13th juror."

But I do believe that some of this finger-pointing is misplaced, particularly where Jamie Satterfield is concerned. The gap between what a reporter suspects/believes and what she can document is as wide as the chasm between the New York Post and the New York Times.

The courthouse awash in rumors All the time. Some bear fruit, some don't.

I've known Richard for many years. Went to school with him, as a matter of fact, and although I haven't seen him all that much in recent times, I've always liked him and heard good things about him professionally. He was appointed to that judgeship to replace Randy Nichols, who was appointed attorney general when Eddie Dossett got stomped to death by a herd of cows. Or something. Both Nichols and Baumgartner were appointed on the strength of their relationships within the McWherter administration, but I believe that for many years Richard's conduct in office exceeded expectations. Seriously, I heard pretty unmitigated praise of him as a judge until this past year.

I did know that he had a propensity to abuse alcohol, and maybe indulged in some recreational drug use back in the day (as did most everybody else I knew). Nothing particularly eyebrow raising about that.

Richard isn't the first trial judge to have such issues in recent years. In one such case, the judge, an exceptionally brilliant guy when in his prime, was known to have become increasingly incompetent in his later years. He kept ever-more abbreviated hours and from time to time issued doctored reports to the press proving that he was toting his load, docket-wise. Everybody knew that was hooey, and his incapacity increased the load on his colleagues. There was a strong, well-founded rumor, for example, that he'd "broken in" to his own office in the wee hours of the night and was discovered there butt-naked, crazy as a loon. He was escorted home by the high sheriff, subject to no further action except for the grinding of the gossip mill. I heard all that from multiple sources, but had no proof and couldn't report it. I don't believe that makes me responsible for his actions.

I would agree that there is an institutional impulse to close ranks around elected officials and insulate them from outside disapprobation, but that rule doesn't necessarily apply when the suspect official belongs to the minority party, or is on the other side of some internecine feud (Ragsdale/Hutchison, for example), or just isn't a member of the correct social circle. I'm not aware that Richard ran with the good ole boys, and don't believe that the sheriff would feel compelled to protect him. I also don't think that Leland Price and Takeisha Fitzgerald were required to do any more than they did when they saw Richard's car weaving all over the road. They made a call to somebody who was in a position to do something about it and reported it to their boss, who was told that it was a medical issue.

I have neither heard nor seen any compelling evidence that anybody in a position to do anything about it knew the true depths to which Richard had sunk. I read that redacted file over the weekend, and it is horrifying. I can only imagine that Judge Blackwood is gnashing his teeth and losing sleep over what he didn't know when he approved the plea deal. I do not know why Al Schmutzer delivered such a sanitized version of the facts -- I also know Al Schmutzer, and he is a prosecutorial hardass of the very first rank.

So while I've got plenty of questions about this whole thing, I just don't see evidence of a conspiracy. It seems to me that Richard, who had serious medical issues which he told his doctor were brought on by his drinking, started spiraling downward concurrently with the Christian/Newsom case. I don't know what kind of toll it took on him, or whether the timelines of the case and his pancreatitis just came together, but one thing is certain -- that case made him a HUGE public figure, so much so that the ex-wife of his secondary drug dealer and the nurses at St. Mary's where his primary drug dealer/mistress was hospitalized recognized him from seeing him on TV. Toward the end, it really didn't take long to unravel after the ex-wife ratted him out and the nurses corroborated his visits to the hospital.

Finally, I just don't see the connection to Henry's case, beyond comparing and contrasting it with what a real investigation looks like.

kag's picture

Betty, According to the TBI


According to the TBI file, when Fitzgerald and Price reported the major impaired driving incident they witnessed to Mr. Nichols, Mr. Nichols called Baumgartner at home and Baumgartner told him he'd been impaired by "wine" at the time and said maybe he'd been drinking too much lately. So basically, the judge admitted to drunk driving to to DA, yet no report was made to the BPR. Subsequently, Baumgartner contacted Price and Fitzgerald and told them an entirely different story, saying he'd been impaired by an Rx med, and shouldn't have been driving. Further, the file states that the DA had for some time been regularly been rescheduling Baumgartner's docket at the last minute when he was too "unwell" to work on a given day. Additionally, in her interview with TBI, Baumgartner's asst. Jennifer Judy stated that she believed that the DA had to know what was up with the judge.

Now I am not saying any of that makes it definitively the case that the DA failed to protect the integrity of our judiciary and thus, the citizens of Knox Co via inaction. However, it's certainly enough that the reasonable thing for Mr. Nichols to do at this point is to ask for an external review of the whole situation by the appropriate agency, with a written report prepared for him do that he can correct any organizational issues within the department he heads up that are revealed. And the report should be shared with the media and the public.

I am just really put off that no one in this town's power structure seems to have the integrity or leadership to even CONSIDER whether there were any institutional failures or professional lapses within their own agencies or organizations that contributed to Baumgartner's ability to get away with an outrageous abuse of power, basically in plain sight. Maybe after review and reflection, it would be determined legitimately that no one knew or should have known a damn thing, but these immediate, blanket denials are shallow and seem insincere.

As for any direct connection to my son's case and how it was handled, I don't know yet whether there was one, and I'm not claiming one. My point is a broader one related to the way all cases involving drug crimes are handled. In any county where the key criminal court and drug crimes judge is trafficking in drugs and prostitution. - and where more than a couple of his fellow criminals know exactly what' he's doing , and he's aware that his fellow criminals have this info - there's no way that this situation doesn't have ripple effects across the county's entire criminal justice system. The possible ways that the situation could manifest are varied, but I can't imagine a scenario where Baumgartner's reckless and regular
criminal behavior over ***years*** did not impact how cases in Knox Co were investigated and prosecuted.


Bbeanster's picture

Katie, today's one of my

Katie, today's one of my deadline days and I don't have time to go back and re-read that file right now, but I did not interpret Baumgartner's answer to Nichols as a confession of drunk driving per se. He said that he'd had difficulty sleeping and he'd gotten into the habit of drinking wine at night as a sleep aid. I find that ridiculous on its face, but it's not an admission of DUI (a crime which I particularly abhor, having lost my husband, had my children's lives endangered and acquired a lifelong limp because drunk drivers. I've been on the receiving end of two head-on collisions caused by drunks. Drunks leaving parties and bars with car keys in their hands make me sick and cause me to stay home at night).

I think lots of people saw lots of bits and pieces -- his secretary most of all. My sense is that over the course of 2010, she became more and more concerned as she had to reschedule cases. It wasn't Nichols who instigated the rescheduling, it was Ms Judy, iirc. Based on information and belief, as they say in legal documents, I believe Nichols is disengaged from the day-to-day running of his office, and I doubt he was real quick at picking up on clues. Not making excuses, just observations. I'm not a fan of the way that office is run, for the most part.

kag's picture

Betty, I know you're slammed

Betty, I know you're slammed today so please know I'm not expecting a response, but I just want to say that I know all you lost due to a drunk driver, and I know of your zero tolerance position.

I will go back & double check, but I'm pretty sure that the file says the DA had a direct role in the frequent last minute rescheduling.

Again, I'm not saying we know with any certainty who knew what when. What I'm saying is that the gravity and impact of what's happened calls for rigorous internal review and reflection by multiple local agencies and organizations rather than the almost flip denials of any POSSIBLE missteps And with regard to the DA's office & possibly other departments within the county's criminal justice system, an external audit is clearly in order. Results of that operational review should be available to the public when complete.

Mr. Nichols needs to do the right thing here and be the one to call for a complete external review of his office's activities and behavior as they relate to this matter. The need for such an audit is clear, and Mr. Nichols should voluntarily offer to submit to it. Obviously, if his office made no operational errors of any consequence, that's what an audit will reveal.

Average Guy's picture

I also knew of the whacked

I also knew of the whacked out judge with the four hour a week work schedule.

I would agree as it relates to the legal community, “everybody knew”.

So why should people following this case believe nobody knew?

As for Schmutzer delivering sanitized facts, has anyone asked him? If so, what was the answer?

Regarding Schmutzer and Blackwood, is it the norm to bring in retired attorneys and judges on matters such as this?

And maybe his medicated/drunk driving could be explained to a level of at least plausible deniability for the prosecutors, but how did he explain away his Chattanooga trip with Castleman?

I hope you’re right, but releasing the TBI report will be the only way to prove it. If it exonerates everyone, why not release it?

Bbeanster's picture

Hey, Average Guy-- I pretty

Hey, Average Guy-- I pretty much agree with everything you said, with the observation that the whacked-out judge with the four-hour a week schedule operated like that for years, with nobody in a position to do anything about it willing to do anything about it. His incapacity put a real burden on his colleagues, including Richard B.
He (the other whacked-out judge) was actively protected by the local political structure, and even his last opponent declined to spell out the real problems during the campaign.
And there are other examples of addicted officeholders sprinkled all through the courthouse (with alcohol being the drug of choice, mostly -- but really, who knows?). Seems to be a tradition.
I heard lots of rumors about Richard, but now that I think back on it, they didn't come fast and furious until early 2011, shortly before he resigned. I thought he looked like hell during those trials, but I didn't watch them incessantly, and, well, Richard's looked bad for a long time. I'll concede that I'm not the most plugged-in person to courthouse gossip anymore, but I'm not entirely innocent of such, either
It just seems to me that his behavior became increasingly reckless over his last two years in office -- but was relatively circumspect before that.

I agree that releasing the whole record would answer a lot of questions, although I'm sure it would have unintended consequences, as well -- like exposing confidential informants, etc.

And, re the trip with Castleman, I don't recall anybody asking him about it. Maybe someone did, and I missed it, but people are loathe to go to the source and ask those sorts of things, it seems to me. Brings up too many ancient, answerless questions, like why do men with beautiful, talented, kind-hearted wives run around with skanks?

Average Guy's picture

Confidential informants

Confidential informants should be protected. Tax funded public servants, not so much.

Regarding Castleman, Knoxnews reported; “At least two Knox County Sheriff’s Office deputies as well as court staff saw Baumgartner with Castleman at a Chattanooga restaurant,…”

Who were the staff and the deputies? Did they recognize Castleman and did they tell anybody?

As for the report, do you know of anyway it gets out? FOIA? Will defense attorneys get access for the retrials?

bizgrrl's picture

I do believe a thorough

I do believe a thorough investigation is in order. I agree with Katie that an external review is necessary.

Bbeanster's picture

Good questions AG. And I

Good questions AG.
And I don't have answers for any of them. My recollection is that Richard's secretary and a probation officer knew who Castleman was. I was thinking that the deputies said they saw a young, dark-haired woman wearing a hoodie leave the restaurant, slightly ahead of the judge. Don't know that they knew exactly who she was, although I don't know that they didn't. I'd observe here that the consequences suffered by low-level public employees who talk too much about officeholders are pretty dire. County general employees have some kind of whistleblower protection now, but I doubt they feel very protected. It's not reasonable to expect people to jeopardize their jobs during economic times like these over what they might interpret as the scandal of the week.
The sheriff and the DA, however, ought to be held to a higher standard.

The most common reason for keeping files closed that I run up against is the old "ongoing investigation" claim. That will keep records sealed forever, far as I can tell, but should not apply in this case, since it's concluded.

Average Guy's picture

If I were a defense attorney

If I were a defense attorney (not just for the C-N trial), I would take getting access to the TBI report to the Supreme Court if I had to. If I wanted a fair trial for my client, I’d first need to know if the Knox judiciary is as forthright as the law requires, or do selected members engage in cover-ups to protect their colleagues, standing or their cases?

As you mention, this is a concluded investigation. If none of the above applies, make it known before it’s challenged.

Bbeanster's picture

As an aside, the utter

As an aside, the utter Tobacco Road sordidness of this tale would be funny, if the surrounding circumstances weren't so terrible.
The little back story that the wife of Whatsisname the drug dealer told about living in Christenberry Heights until Whatsiname could raise enough money by breaking into soft drink machines to make a down payment on a mobile home in Halls was classic.
You couldn't make that up.

kag's picture

The headline on this WATE

The headline on this WATE Channel 6 story totally misses the important info buried in it in which the reporter seems to have nailed down a witness claiming she personally alerted local law enforcement to questionable activities by Judge Baumgartner a year or two BEFORE the TBI got a tip & launched an investigation. Am I reading this story right?


Bbeanster's picture

Katie, you're right. No other

Katie, you're right. No other way to read what this woman is saying, and I believe that Castleman sort of confirmed at least part of this to the TBI. I recall a statement about moving out of the trailer park because of a nosy neighbor.

(Still haven't had time to go back and re-read it yet on account of my job, for which I am very thankful)

kag's picture

Well, some journalist (or

Well, some journalist (or maybe just some really annoying blogger who isn't inclined to "shut up"...heh ;-)) needs to ask Ms. McClain for an interview, and ask her in more detail which local law enforcement agency she spoke with that day, and what specific information she gave them regarding Judge Baumgartner's frequent activities in and around the trailer of a neighbor who had a warrant issued for burglary.

That WATE story leaves so many questions unanswered (can't figure out why they buried what should have been their lead). This woman says she spoke DIRECTLY to some local law enforcement agency to tell them that the woman wanted on an outstanding burglary warrant was present in a particular location so they could come pick her up/serve the warrant, and then she called that same agency BACK to let them know that "the judge had arrived." So what did the law enforcement agency do with that info? Did they assume that since "the judge had arrived" that they didn't need to go serve or arrest Castleman as planned? Did they EVER serve her with whichever specific warrant that was?

Since it's the Sheriff's Office who handles all warrants in both the city and county, it's reasonable to assume that Ms. McLain was interacting directly with the Sheriff's Office on this matter. Thus, an enterprising journalist could request a paper trail on all warrants issued and served on Deena Castleman in recent years, and figure out what happened to the one from that incident. Who took the call from Ms. McClain reporting that Judge Baumgartner had just arrved at the trailer of the individual on whom they apparently planned to serve a warrant or arrest on burglary charges? What did that person do with the info? Did the burglary warrant get served, and if so, what was the ultimate disposition of the case?

Did Ms. McClain also let the KCSO employee who took this call know that the judge was a frequent visitor to the burglary suspect's house trailer? Did the KCSO employee ask any questions about WHY Judge Baumgartner might be there?

Ms. McLain seeing Mr. Baumgartner at the trailer of Ms. Castleman isn't newsworthy. The fact that she saw him there regularly is well documented in the TBI file. The newsworthy information in that WATE story is that Ms.McClain claims that she personally and directly informed local law enforcement of Baumgartner's activity in and around the residence of a wanted burglary suspect. If Ms. McClain is telling the truth, then the Sheriff's Office cannot claim that they did not know anything substantive about Baumgartner's behavior before TBI came to them to inform them. If Ms. McClain is telling the truth, we need to be asking KCSO what was done with the information from a citizen that Judge Baumgartner was making daytime visits to the house trailer of a female burglary suspect with a well-known criminal history involving narcotics and human trafficking.

This little snippet from that WATE story offers a tiny crack in the whole "who knew what and when, and what did they do with the info?" denial-fest, and local journalists need to stick a pointy instrument into that crack ASAP and find out whether they can pry it the rest of the way open.


Average Guy's picture

There was a TBI agent that

There was a TBI agent that likely already pried it all open.

The only reason given for closing this report is an on-going investigation.

Investigation into what?

Baumgartner is in the clear and it’s not like further investigation on Gibson and Castleman is going to make them out to be any different than law enforcement already knows them. Again, this report as submitted was finished.

The 90% redaction of the report is to keep the questions you’re asking from being answered. Any question that any local ask will be stymied by those involved continuing the “on-going” investigation ruse, unless that local has a DOJ or FBI badge.

No revelations here, but the link does provide Schmutzer opining on how much damage could result for the local judiciary if the deal with Baumgartner wasn’t made; (link...)

satterfield's picture

TBI file

Here is what McClain told the TBI straight from the interview report:
"On two separate occasions, McClain took photographs of the judge's car and/or the judge with her cellular phone. The first occasion was the day Deena was arrested by the Knox County S.O. possibly March of 2010. She stated she had called a Knox County detective to report Deena was at her trailer, and he could come there to arrest her. A few minutes later the judge's vehicle arrived at Deena's residence. McClain said she took photographs of the judge's vehicle and also tried to get a photograph of the judge entering Deena's trailer. McClain further advised that the judge left minutes before the police arrived to arrest Deena."
McClain, according to her interview, did not know the judge's name at the time. She had heard rumors Deena "was supposed to be seeing a judge and supplying him with pills."
There is no indication in the TBI interview that she told the detective with whom she said she spoke anything about a "judge." She said she told the detective Deena, who was wanted on a warrant, was home. The detective is not identified in the interview report. McClain apparently did not save the photographs she took because there is no mention in her interview of turning over photographs or the photographs themselves. The photos taken by Gibson's ex-wife are not only referenced in her interview but included in the portion of the file released by Blackwood.
I haven't looked at WATE's story but we have posted the portions of the TBI file on our website and you can read McClain's interview in its entirety there.
I am in the coming days attempting to contact all witnesses listed in the portion of the report made public to further ascertain what they saw and whether they reported their observations to anyone. I still have 26 courts to cover and had a murder trial this week, so it will be in the coming week. We're a bit shorthanded these days.

Average Guy's picture

In our legal system there are

In our legal system there are participants and administrators. If participants already told administrators the truth and it later becomes obvious those admins are doing what they can to keep that truth from getting out, I would think even drug addled participants would be aware enough to keep quiet. It’s a whole “don’t bite the hand that feeds (controls) you” kind of thing, but I certainly wish you luck.

Do you know if the Sentinel has plans for a FOIA regarding the information redacted in the TBI report?

Average Guy's picture

If I’m recalling correctly, I

If I’m recalling correctly, I remember reading early on that the trailer park witness actually had pictures.

BB said: “He kept ever-more abbreviated hours and from time to time issued doctored reports to the press proving that he was toting his load, docket-wise.”

Those reports went to the AOC out of Nashville. When the discrepency of what the judge was saying and what the reports actually said was brought to light, the AOC did nothing to help set the record straight.

The AOC appointed Blackwood. Does anyone know who appointed Schmutzer?

The larger point being, this isn’t just about what happened in the City-County Building. Which is why I believe anything short of the Feds coming in, will be a waste of time.

Bbeanster's picture

BB said: “He kept ever-more

BB said: “He kept ever-more abbreviated hours and from time to time issued doctored reports to the press proving that he was toting his load, docket-wise.”

Those reports went to the AOC out of Nashville. When the discrepency of what the judge was saying and what the reports actually said was brought to light, the AOC did nothing to help set the record straight.

The AOC appointed Blackwood. Does anyone know who appointed Schmutzer?

I had no idea that the incapacitated judge issue was studied by any entity with the power to enforce discipline. It went on for so long...

And I don't know who appointed Schmutzer, but again, to my knowledge he has a history of being a strong, competent prosecutor -- and although he's retired, he's still a pretty vigorous guy -- I saw him at some Victor Ashe function not long ago and he didn't seem much different than the was when I used to cover courts in Sevier County. That was back when he and Dick Vance were rolling along, and I never saw a stronger team than those two. I just cannot figure this whole thing out.

rikki's picture

I think you and AG are

I think you and AG are talking about different judges. He's talking strictly about Baumgartner, whereas you are talking about another criminal court judge who stayed on the bench despite being unable to manage the workload.

Average Guy's picture

No, we’re on the same

No, we’re on the same page.

The point is an arm of the TN Supreme Court, the AOC, was heavily involved in both.

The reason for making the point is that from my standpoint, the AOC seems more interested in preservation and politics than they do blind justice.

Rikki, do you know who appointed Schmutzer?

rikki's picture

I don't know who appointed

I don't know who appointed Schmutzer. Hell, I can't even keep up with how many local judges were under state investigation!

Might as well add another to the list, though. In Blount County a circuit court judge sloughed off a bunch of cases onto another judge, with cooperation from the county clerk, then used the case backlog against the other judge when he was up for election. The AOC played the "preservation and politics" role pretty well in that case.

I think all these cases serve as proof that partisanship and judicial impartiality are fundamentally incompatible. I'm not very comfortable with the idea of elected judges, and partisan judicial elections seem like a recipe for disaster. Look at the outcomes we've gotten.

Average Guy's picture

It’s not that he retired,

It’s not that he's retired, thus somehow too old.

It’s not that there is any evidence showing any wrongdoing.

It’s that if he or Blackwood did do anything wrong, what’s the recourse against people who are retired?

At present, are we to believe that aside from the TBI person who wrote the report, Schmutzer is the only other person who saw the entire thing?

Bbeanster's picture

No, both AG and I are talking

No, both AG and I are talking about the same two judges.

Factchecker's picture

Let the economy roll!

We're a bit shorthanded these days.

Sounds like it's time for the KNS to staff up!

Average Guy's picture

I’ll make this my last entry

I’ll make this my last entry on the matter.

As it relates to the Gibson testimony that “law enforcement” was supplying Baumgartner drugs, I believe there are three possibilities:

1)Gibson is lying
2)The Knox County SO was running an undercover sting operation, didn’t like what they found and called in the TBI
3)There is a local cop selling drugs in Knox County

The last should scare the hell out of anyone who lives here.

kag's picture

Sadly, after all I've seen

Sadly, after all I've seen and experienced since April 27, 2010, I'd lay greatest odds on option #3.

The situation in this county is heartbreaking and terrifying, and while it's awful enough in a theoretical sense to most of Knox County citizens, for those of us who have suffered directly as a result of the corruption rotting our local institutions from the inside out, it's even worse.


kag's picture

Can anyone clarify for me how

Can anyone clarify for me how Mr. Schmutzer came to be tapped as special prosecutor in the Baumgartner case? What was that process for selecting who would take on that role? And what is Mr. Schmutzer's professional history with the other major characters in the Baumgartner situation? I understand that at one time Mr. Nichols and Mr. Baumgartner practiced law together (someone please correct me if I have that info wrong). Does Mr. Schmutzer have any substantive professional history with Baumgartner, Nichols et al?

satterfield's picture


Schmutzer was appointed by the state District Attorney General's Conference. He is a Republican and has no personal/professional/political ties to Baumgartner. The same is true of Nichols, other than both are DAG members. It went down like this, according to the TBI file. KPD responded to burglary call at Gibson's ex. She produced photos of judge's car in Gibson's driveway (but for those photos I doubt KPD would have taken her seriously). KPD contacted Jennifer Welch, their contact in Nichols' office. KPD got copies of the ex's photographs, showed them to Welch. She contacted Nichols, who asked the TBI to take over. He also asked the DAG to appoint a special prosecutor and recused his office.

kag's picture

Right, but who made the call

Right, but who made the call regarding which person would serve in that special prosecutor role? How is the specific person selected to fill that role?

satterfield's picture


Bill Cox, president of DAG and DA for the 11 Judicial District, is tasked with that decision. There is a list of retired prosecutors willing to accept occasional cases from which the DAG has to choose. Schmutzer is on that list. The DAG can turn to non-retired prosecutors. For instance, the DAG appointed an ADA from Cocke County to handle a criminal case against Knoxville attorney Anthony Avery and a Morristown prosecutor to handle a murder case against a guy who contributed to Nichols' campaign. But the retired folks are their first choice primarily because taking a special assignment doesn't pull them away from current duties in their own jurisdictions.
For what it's worth, Schmutzer was, as Betty pointed out, a hard-ass of the first order when I covered him back in the day. He's one of those folks I'll be calling in the coming week to ask why he kept from Blackwood the bulk of the allegations against Baumgartner when Baumgartner pleaded guilty to official misconduct.
The conventional thinking is that the Christian/Newsom case was driving everything, with the idea being: Let's plead Baumgartner out and move on so as not to impact these verdicts. Again, conventional wisdom, not my opinion, is no one figured on Blackwood having the courage to actually review the TBI file and turn it over to the Christian/Newsom defendants, knowing it would lead to where we are now.

Average Guy's picture

I suppose I need to redact

I suppose I need to redact part of my last entry.

I have to question the conventional thinking. What difference would it have made if Baumgartner got a plea or they tried to bury him under the jail? It’s not his penalty that matters, it was his actions. Actions that affect a multitude of cases, not just C-N.

And if what Blackwood did was courageous, what is the normal procedure? To ignore or keep evidence from getting out? Maybe this is why you theorize in the online chat that this seems like a set up that may be or should be changed.

As pointed out, the TBI report isn’t about the Christian-Newsom case. Baumgartner stated he needed three more years on the bench. What if it were a high profile case in 2015 that he passed out in the middle of? We would be then where we are now, the only difference being three more years and bunch more cases.

Baumgartner is done, Schmutzer and Blackwood are retired, and local drug dealers are still likely going to be local drug dealers. The 90% redacted TBI report isn’t going to change the status of any of that, so why keep it sealed?

fischbobber's picture

Dykes is dead.

No one hires the Jim Dykes kind of reporter these days and people apparently don't think much of the Barry Henderson type of editor. In short, there is little demand for truth seekers.

Those that manage to keep a paying position in the communications industry by informing others tend to be overwhelmed, and expected to sell advertising in their spare time.

Bbeanster's picture

Dykes wasn't a reporter. He

Dykes wasn't a reporter. He was a columnist.
I love Memory Lane as well as anybody, but such statements as the above are pretty insulting to those of us who were out there busting our butts and making enemies in high places. Every once in awhile we still get a lick in, even if you don't notice it.

fischbobber's picture


I was under the impression that Jim Dykes covered criminal court, specifically a nefarious case involving a brutal murder during the course of a bank robbery in Cocke County. I believe they brought in a Judge named Hoffman to oversee the preceding. I have been told by some of the principles that it was the finest case of reporting in recent memory or since.

That being said, I offer my most humble apologies to you for the slight. My only defense is that Christmas is a busy time of year and my mind tends to go after 15 hours.

That being said, I would submit that you are a 150,000 dollar a year reporter in a community of our size that values quality newspapers. You are prolific, provocative, well researched and accurate. I would further submit that you are extremely picky or the people that ought to be beating a path to your door are too flat ass lazy or incompetent to do their job.

Or the shopper's paying that kind of cash, one or the other.

fischbobber's picture

Those of us and we

Is a pretty short list.

The national trend (and local) is that those that manage media outlets (KnoxViews excepted) want add revenue increased and they see catering to advertisers as opposed to attracting readers as the key to their future success.

What's wrong with this picture?

R. Neal's picture

WBIR: less than 40 retrials

WBIR: less than 40 retrials possible


Pam Strickland's picture

My Take

Turns out that there were 3,341 cases finalized during the time that Blackwood says Baumgartner was impared. And, in general, it was probably easier than some of us would like to think for him to fool everybody.

Bbeanster's picture

I was under the impression

I was under the impression that Jim Dykes covered criminal court, specifically a nefarious case involving a brutal murder during the course of a bank robbery in Cocke County. I believe they brought in a Judge named Hoffman to oversee the preceding. I have been told by some of the principles that it was the finest case of reporting in recent memory or since.

I don't recall this case. For the time I knew him (late 70s through 1992), Jim was a PR person at TVA (for most of that time) who wrote a very popular column at the Journal. He was very talented.
He and I had many differences of opinion, not that it mattered, since I was just a grunt reporter.
But I was not amused by stuff like the "Von Bulow Society," which was basically dinner that he and Tom McAdams and some other guys threw to celebrate Claus Von Bulow, the guy who got away with putting his heiress wife in an irreversible coma. Just didn't tickle my funnybone.

fischbobber's picture

Great reporters vs. Great columnists

A great reporter conveys a story that tells itself. Any elicited emotion stems from the facts of the matter.

A great columnist elicits emotion through the telling of a story. The goal is the production of the emotion, not the strict adherence to fact.

A pisser-offer (see Dan Jenkins for a definition) just throws dynamite in the lake for sport to see what he can bring to the surface.

I was once almost published in the same publication (CityTimes) (about 1983) as Mr. Dykes, but it went bankrupt that issue and I got neither published nor paid. In the spirit of Hunter S. Thompson, Jim Dykes was an East Tennessee icon. There was a group of us that aspired to be the "next Jim Dykes." It was considered a level above the "next Sam Venable" simply because of the freedom to publicly consume alcohol with an increased availability of drivers, and adventures. But I digress.......

I got the joke of the "Free Claus Von Bulow Society" and it had less to do with male/female and more with anyone that deserves it. The same sort of humor was floating around at the time about the woman that cut off her husband's pecker and threw it out the car window. I personally have never murdered my wife and she has never cut off my pecker and thrown it out a car window. I suppose that could be considered the definition of a happy marriage and under that definition I can definitely state that I'm happily married. The wonders of love are infinite.

Once again, I apologize for the slight. The Knoxville Journal was a great paper under Chas Smith. I can only imagine the frustration of being the next great journalist only to see the local business landscape within the newspaper industry crumple under what can only be described as an economic raping of a grand social institution.

Finally, I will see my source from this trial and get the specifics here over the holidays. I will pass them on if you wish.

fischbobber's picture

To Betty

You are this towns great journalist.

I beat around that bush in previous posts but never put it to the point. I read your articles and appreciate the value of professionals within the community.

Thank you.

Bob Fischer

Bbeanster's picture

Hey, Bob, You are very kind,

Hey, Bob,
You are very kind, and in fact give me way too much credit.

Bbeanster's picture

Got to thinking about

Got to thinking about reporters I've known, and this guy came to mind as the best I've ever seen in Knoxville:

Not only was he the most possessed, hardest-nosed reporter I've ever seen, his writing was just as good as his investigative skills and so was his knack for getting himself in trouble. It's been a long time since I've thought about him, but rumors followed him like a vapor trail. He was kind of a mythical figure -- hugely talented and utterly ruthless. He was from Chattanooga, migrated up here and had the KNS medical beat (yep, Knoxville used to reporters who covered healthcare and medical stuff). He broke huge stories and could tell them like nobody's business.
He went to the AJC from here and won a Pulitzer Prize writing about lending practices (the guy could cover any beat). I remember rumors filtering back about him getting in hot water by sneaking into a prison riot, or something like that -- cracked me up, actually. From there he went to the Washington Post. I don't remember what happened there, but he ultimately got let go. How does a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter get freakin' fired? I never, ever heard that he fabricated stuff or plagiarized, just that he would do unorthodox things to get a story.
He always lands on his feet, and maybe some of that earlier stuff was just youthful indiscretion, or something. Anyhow, he was the most talented, effective journalist I've ever personally seen. Dude was a beast.
My runner-up would be Andy Sher of the Chattanooga Times, who covers state government. He and I shared an office when I worked in Nashville, and he is a relentless reporter. Also a great guy and smart as hell. Come to think of it, he and Dedman, both Chattanooga guys, were very close friends. I learned a lot from Andy.

MyOpinions's picture

Food For Thought

Has anybody considered the fact that Baumgartner’s lawyer was Don Bosch? He may be the most competent and thoughtful lawyer in town. He is quick to analyze the problem and moves like a damn Ninja to get an effective result. And definitely avoids the press on behalf of his clients when possible. If this were Isaacs, hell we would be seeing him every damn day weaseling all over the place.

R. Neal's picture

When we lived in the Orlando

When we lived in the Orlando area, I told the Mrs. that if I got in trouble her first call should be to Cheney Mason*. Here, it's Don Bosch.

(*I met Mason a couple of times, and was deposed by him once as a potential expert witness when he represented my boss as plaintiff in an intellectual property matter that was way out of his area of expertise. It's a long story.)

Average Guy's picture

Competent enough to seal a

Competent enough to seal a TBI report? Baumagertner is getting a pass because the judiciary doesn't eat their own. In this case they should.

Release the report.

R. Neal's picture

Seems like Bosch was the only

Seems like Bosch was the only one who did his job in this mess - get his client the best possible deal given the circumstances.

Average Guy's picture


It could have taken a year or two before the case actually made it to trial and, during that time, none of the details of the TBI probe could have been publicly revealed.

If the reason for sealing the probe was in case of a trial, what's the reason now?

Average Guy's picture

One down;

One down; (link...)

I’d say Gibson is shitting his pants about now.

Out of Nashville: (link...)

Monday afternoon Schmutzer said he understands why many in the public feel like Baumgartner "got off easy." However, he defended the decision to offer a plea deal to the now disbarred judge. Schmutzer also said he limited the case's scope to Baumgartner's dealings with Gibson rather than delving into the Castleman relationship for legal reasons.

"That official misconduct dealt with Chris Gibson. That was my choice. I chose Chris Gibson because I had a stronger case, I thought legally," said Schmutzer. "He [Gibson] was on probation at the time the judge was buying drugs from him. And as such, the judge [Baumgartner] had his thumb on him [Gibson]."

Castleman also supplied him pills and he had a hell of a lot more than his “thumb” on her. The more Schmutzer talks, the worse he looks. Can’t wait to hear from Blackwood, if he ever speaks.

And this goes out to anyone who spends time looking at this stuff. On the first page of the redacted TBI report, at the bottom of the page, it states in bold typeset “STATE OF TENNESSEE VS.” and then in handwriting after the “vs” it calls out “Cobbins”, “Coleman”, “Davidson”, “Thomas”. (link...)

Anybody know why an investigation into Baumgartner was titled this way and is the handwriting normal on this type documentation?

satterfield's picture


The portion of the file made public was entered as an exhibit in state vs. davidson, et al, and that's why that notation is on there. It was added to the document, not originally there.

Hildegard's picture

You are so not going to be

You are so not going to be invited to any of the best conspiracy theories this season.

Average Guy's picture

The portion of the file made

The portion of the file made public was entered as an exhibit in state vs. davidson, et al, and that's why that notation is on there. It was added to the document, not originally there

Hadn’t the State already concluded it’s C-N case by the time of this report? It would be interesting to learn which office added it.

From the start, the TBI investigation has been framed by those who’ve handled it as being part of the Christian-Newsom trial. Whoever wrote in those names is certainly on board.

My guess the people involved know in this area this case is like religion and politics, to sensitive to even talk about in polite company. To the extent many are arguing there shouldn’t even be a retrial to avoid the families enduring more pain. The DA’s office has now stated they’re in that camp. How convenient for them.

Having Schmutzer finger pointing at Blackwood, Blackwood not saying a word, Castleman going up the river for six years (with odds that Gibson will be close behind) and a sealed file because of an “ongoing investigation” is even more convenient.

Having to retry the C-N trial is a travesty. The second, and separate, travesty is what’s going on with our local judiciary. A third would be if the general public continues believing they’re one in the same.

Pam Strickland's picture

The report was evidence in

The report was evidence in the hearing for the motion for a new trial. That's what Jamie is saying. Not the original trials but the hearing that was just conducted earlier this month.

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