Judge denies Christian, Newsom request for access to TBI files

Judge denies Christian, Newsom request for access to Baumgartner files

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KNOXVILLE (WATE) - A request by the Christian and Newsom families to unseal the TBI files related to former judge Richard Baumgartner has been denied.

Judge Walter Kurtz ruled Friday the families have standing in Baumgartner's case, meaning they have a right to ask, but they do not have special rights to view the files.

The attorney for the Christians and Newsoms claimed they had constitutional rights to see files from an Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe into Baumgartner's pill addiction and related cover-up.

Judge Kurtz ruled instead that state law gives law enforcement the privilege to keep some records sealed, which outweighs the right of access to court records.

After the ruling attorney Herbert Moncier filed an amended response Monday afternoon on behalf of the victims' families claiming the law covering the TBI file as applied in this case is unconstitutional.

Gary and Deena Christian, and Hugh and Mary Newsom, want to see all of the files, claiming Baumgartner's pill addiction led to the retrials in the murder, rape and torture of their children.  

Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom disappeared on the night of January 6, 2007. Baumgartner presided over trials of the four defendants in the case. The defendants were all found guilty of several related crimes.

The TBI report found Baumgartner had abused prescription pills and then lied to court officials to cover his addiction.

Baumgartner admitted his addiction to prescription painkillers and pleaded guilty to official misconduct. He is now serving time in a federal prison.

An unsealed version of the TBI file was submitted as part Baumgartner's federal case.

Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood ordered new trials for the defendants after Baumgartner's addiction was revealed.

In issuing his judgment, Judge Blackwood released a redacted version of the TBI's report, leaving some pages were sealed under court order.

Judge Kurtz denied the victims' families request to unseal the remaining portions of the files. He said the families have the same amount of rights as the public, and being family members does not give them additional rights to see judicial records.

"The court rejects the petitioner's argument that statutorily confidential records somehow by metamorphosis lose their confidential protection when filed in court," Judge Kurtz wrote in his judgment, which was issued Friday.

In the court order, Kurtz noted that the parents were emotionally involved in the case, but that did not give them access rights to files protected under court orders.

The families say the judge, prosecution and defense were able to see the entire file and they should have the same rights.

"Everyone has access to it except the victim's family, which we represent the victims because they cannot represent themselves, and here we are being reduced to second class citizens," Hugh Newsom said following a hearing earlier this month.

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