Richard Baumgartner in federal court. Sketch by: Mike C. Berry
Prosecution and defense attorneys gave opening statements Thursday morning in the trial of disgraced former Knox County Judge Richard Baumgartner.
In opening statements, U.S. attorneys said they will prove that Baumgartner used his power and influence as a judge to cover up the crimes of his mistress, Deena Castleman.
Prosecutors said they will introduce evidence that Baumgartner used a government-issued cell phone to make hundreds of drug deals with Castleman on a cell phone that he bought for her.
They also announced that Baumgartner's former judicial assistant and court clerk of 15 years, Jennifer Judy, will testify against him.
Castleman and the people Baumgartner is accused of lying to also are expected to take the stand against the former judge in the coming days.
Baumgartner's defense attorney, Don Bosch, countered that the government is trying to further punish Baumgartner for a crime he didn't commit. Bosch has previously said the federal charges are a vendetta against Baumgartner because his pension remained intact after he resigned from the bench in 2010. Baumgartner pled guilty to one state count of official misconduct. Through court proceedings months later we learned his conduct was related to Baumgartner's drug abuseon the bench. He received two years probation and judicial diversion.
Bosch also told the jury that Baumgartner didn't have full knowledge of the drug conspiracy, but had "limited knowledge" that Castleman was buying pills for him from a "few others." Bosch told the jury the defense will explain "honest reasons why Baumgartner said what he said and did what he did" for Castleman.
After opening statements wrapped up Thursday morning, prosecutors began calling witnesses. Ron Hanaver, director of the Knox County Drug Court, was the first witness. Baumgartner was the supervising judge of the drug court, and was Hanaver's boss.
Hanaver told the court that Baumgartner asked him for drug court cell phone so he could keep in better touch with drug court staff. Hanaver said the program is funded by a government-issued grant, which is tax payer dollars. He said the grant paid around $1,000 in charges for Baumgartner's phone between the summer of 2009, when the phone was issued to Baumgartner, and sometime in 2010.
During defense cross-examination of Hanaver, he admitted that Baumgartner's attorney's had requested to interview him prior to the trial starting, but he refused to talk to them.
Deena Castleman was called to testify next. She is currently an inmate at the Anderson County Jail, serving a six year sentence. She was in court in handcuffs, shackled at her waist. Prosecutors subpoenaed her to testify; she told the court she should not be there unless she had to.
Castleman testified that she and Baumgartner regularly made drug transactions. She testified that Baumgartner gave her between $250 and $300 "a few" times per week to buy him pills. She said that was enough to buy 20-30 pills at a time; she often bought him Hydrocodone or Percocet. She said some of their drug deals occurred in side his chambers at the City County building in Knoxville.
Prosecutors asked Castleman how she kept in touch with Baumgartner. She told the jury he purchased her a Cricket cell phone, gave her cash to pay the bill, and would call her on it to schedule drug deals.
Prosecutors introduced phone records from Baumgartner's cell phone as evidence. Those records show that he used that phone to call Castleman hundreds of times on cell number of the phone he funded for her.
One point of tension Thursday between defense attorneys and prosecutors involved two audio phone recordings between Castleman and Baumgartner that were made in late 2010 while Castleman was in the Anderson County Jail.
Bosch didn't want the jury to hear them. He objected when prosecutors tried to introduce the recordings as evidence. Bosch told the judge the conversations happened outside the dates of the charges, and that he believes they are irrelevant to this case. Prosecutors said the recordings showed Baumgartner's involvement and influence in Castleman's legal proceedings.
Ultimately, Judge Greer allowed prosecutors to play the recordings for the jury.
Castleman later testified that Baumgartner was involved behind the scenes in her court proceedings with other judges in Knox and Anderson counties.
Finally, Castleman told court that Baumgartner told her he expected her to be loyal to him. She said he told her "something along the lines of 'it would be a bad idea,'" if she turned her back on him.
Bosch started his cross-examination of Castleman late in the day on Thursday. His questions focused on her past with drugs, criminal record, and how she met Baumgartner. Just after 5:15 p.m. Judge Greer wrapped proceedings for the day; Bosch will continue his cross-examination of Castleman at 9 a.m. on Friday morning.
The defense has maintained it won't deny Baumgartner's pill addiction or that he had a sexual relationship with Castleman and denies Baumgartner tried to cover up Castleman's involvement in a drug conspiracy.
In order to reach a guilty verdict, prosecutors must prove four things beyond a reasonable doubt: that Castleman committed a drug trafficking conspiracy; that Baumgartner knew about it; that Baumgartner failed to notify authorities; and that Baumgartner took an affirmative step to conceal Castleman's alleged drug offenses. But, they must first prove that a drug trafficking conspiracy existed, and that Castleman was a willing participant in it.
U.S. Magistrate Ronnie Greer selected a jury of 10 women and two men on Wednesday, with one woman and one man to serve as alternates.
Baumgartner faces seven counts of misprision of a felony. Prosecutors say he lied to several people, including state officials, in efforts to knowingly try to cover up a drug trafficking conspiracy involving Castleman.
The trial is expected to last into next week.