The Real Judge Dredd
An addicted judge had sex with graduates from his drug court, who supplied him with pills. Now his cases are being overturned, costing taxpayers millions.
While a drug addicted judge isn't anything new, Tennessee Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner's situation is one of the more egregious cases in recent memory. Baumgartner, now 64, stepped down from the bench in March 2011, pleading guilty to a single count of misconduct—after a series of incidents that might shock even those who've heard it all. The former judge first became addicted to painkillers after being prescribed them for pancreatitis caused by "chronic alcoholism," according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation file. While he supposedly had a variety of doctors prescribing him Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Xanax and Valium, when the docs couldn't deliver fast enough Baumgartner had ample access to those who could: people who had graduated from his drug court. One of them, Deena Castleman, told agents that the married judge paid her bills and had sex with her, occasionally in his chambers. Nor was Baumgartner's illicit work behavior limited solely to sexual acts, since he also allegedly made drug deals during breaks in court. But the judge has never been punished for his actions: not only was the felony conviction wiped off his record—he was also able to avoid jail and keep his pension.
Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood has been appointed to re-hear Baumgartner's former cases and is overturning some of the convictions, including one that involved a death sentence; it's estimated that Baumgartner presided over more than a thousand cases and that re-trying them could cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. Prosecutors are appealing these decisions, claiming that Baumgartner was actually sober when he came to them. Michael Cohen, the Executive Director of Florida Lawyers Assistance, a non-profit that helps addicted lawyers, judges and law students, says that ultimately Baumgartner's situation is "no more shocking than a construction worker being addicted and doing shoddy construction." Cohen adds, "You can't look at the situation and say he should be held to a higher standard because of his job. That goes against everything we know about the fact that addiction is a disease. He's an addict first and a judge second."