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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Editorial: Justice System Must Correct Itself After Debacle

Editorial: Justice system must correct itself after diversion debacle
The Knoxville News Sentinel  -  EDITORIAL  -  December 18, 2011

Outrage over the actions of disgraced former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner have provoked a genuine but misplaced legislative remedy for the situation.  Two area legislators are proposing changes to a state anti-corruption law that prevents officeholders convicted of felonies from receiving retirement benefits. Defendants who qualify for diversion, as Baumgartner does, don't lose their pensions.  The effort is misplaced. The real target of the outrage should be the agreement that allowed Baumgartner to plead guilty to a single count of official misconduct and qualify for diversion, which allows him to keep his $58,800 annual pension.  Baumgartner, records show, became addicted to prescription drugs in 2007. Based on a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe, Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood determined Baumgartner, among other misdeeds, engaged in doctor shopping, bought pills from street dealers and had an affair with a woman who had been a defendant in his court. Baumgartner took so many pills that he was too compromised to sit on the bench, Blackwood ruled, and could not function as the "13th juror" in criminal trials as required by Tennessee law.  In March, Blackwood accepted the plea deal that could result in Baumgarter emerging from probation without a criminal record. He also would get to keep his pension.  State Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, and state Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, want to close a loophole in state law so that felony defendants who are qualified to receive state pensions and who are allowed diversion must give up their retirement benefits.  That's not the way to handle such situations. Diversion, by definition, scrubs a conviction from a person's record. The justice system cannot allow someone who is not technically guilty of a crime to be punished. And even if the Legislature changes the law, it can't be applied retroactively to Baumgartner.  The problem lies in the liberal application of diversion, especially in cases of misconduct on the part of public officials. In the Baumgartner case, neither the judge, Blackwood nor Special Prosecutor Al Schmutzer seemed concerned about whether the punishment fit the crimes.  Schmutzer, who negotiated the deal with Baumgartner's counsel, professed surprise that Blackwood sentenced Baumgartner to two years on probation with the promise of wiping clean the record if the ex-judge made it through without running afoul of the law again. Yet Schmutzer, who had read the TBI investigative file in its entirety, said he didn't agree with diversion but did not vigorously oppose it during sentencing.  For his part, Blackwood did not review the TBI file, even though he had to know that it contained troubling information about Baumgartner's actions, before signing off on the agreement. Had he read the file, he would have had a hard time rationalizing diversion as justice being served.  Diversion is a tool that can be used to give a second chance to first-time offenders. Baumgartner's pattern of behavior and the sheer volume of his misdeeds should have disqualified him as a candidate for diversion.  As it stands, Baumgartner is getting away with a slap on the wrist. Schmutzer could have negotiated a tougher deal or at the very least insisted that Blackwood not consider diversion as a viable alternative. Blackwood could have delved more into Baumgartner's criminal acts before passing judgment.  The problems Baumgartner wrought cannot be fixed in Nashville. The solution lies in the consciences of those whose duty it is to administer justice in Knox County.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Any and I mean ANY focus on the judiciary keeps them clean. Plain and simple. Keep the heat on, especially those that have the most power!!!!!!

Disgusted said...

My heart bled as I heard this honest judge became addicted to drugs. I cried, but took consolation that his prosecutors had their hearts in the right place and were sympathetic to insure this poor "victim of addiction" judge would have his pension to console him as he wept at home over his demise. Isn't it wonderful that lawyers and judges in States other than NY also have such kindness in their hearts for all those noble judges and lawyers who fall victim to the evils present in our society.

Anonymous said...

From today's NY Times:

"Victims of corruption and injustice have no faith in the law, and yet they dream that an upright official will emerge to right their wrongs. "



While this certainly sounds like NY, they are actually talking about China. So much for all the lip service about justice in the US. Apparently there is no difference between the two.



http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/02/opinion/in-china-the-grievances-keep-coming.html?hp#

Anonymous said...

The "Justice System" will NEVER CORRECT it's self, because there is too much money involved. The thing needs to be scratched and start over since there is too much corruption

Anonymous said...

As a commenter previously stated “The ‘Justice System’ will NEVER CORRECT itself, because there is too much money involved…” There are too many backdoor dealings and too much cronyism amongst the decision makers and the supposed protectors of public interest. There is currently a case in Alachua County Florida (in Gainesville to be precise) that people should watch. The case involves a Judge who has engaged in proven criminal acts under the color of law (it also involves various proven and identified conspirators). The powers that be are aware of the judge’s (and the conspirator’s) crimes so let’s watch and see what they do. Judicial corruption (and the often inadequately ultra-gracious punishment that offending judges receive) is a problem that is not only in NY or TN…it is a problem that effects the entire country. The judicial systems needs total reform, from the lowest court to the highest court. Lastly, the judge that has engaged in criminal acts in Florida is Judge David P. Kreider. For more information on Judge Kreider and those charged with upholding the law (and protecting the public) in Florida check out the link http://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=204797462948105&id=175573075870544 .

Blog Archive

See Video of Senator John L. Sampson's 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption

The first hearing, held in Albany on June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:


               Video of 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption
               The June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:
         
               CLICK HERE TO SEE Part 1
               CLICK HERE TO SEE Part 2