Former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner was found dead Tuesday at his home in East Knox County.
The Knox County Sheriff’s Office says Baumgartner, 70, was found unresponsive by his family around 4:15 p.m. Deputies and a Major Crimes Unit detective were sent to the home and they determined there were no signs of foul play.
Baumgartner’s body was taken to the Regional Forensics Center where a medical examiner will determine a cause of death.
The former judge presided over a number of high profile cases in Knox County, including the Christian-Newsom murder trials.
Baumgartner became the target of a TBI probe in 2011, focused on trading sex for drugs with a woman who had appeared in his court.
He pleaded guilty to official misconduct and resigned from the bench, then faced a federal prosecution and served six months before completing the sentence at home.
The judge’s actions led to retrials in the Christian-Newsom case, and tarnished the career of a man many respected.
“It just goes to show no one is not susceptible to addiction and human frailty,” said WATE 6 On Your Side Legal Analyst Greg Isaacs.
Hours after Baumgartner’s deat, Isaacs remembered the former judge’s early years and him leading the charge to have cameras in Tennessee courtrooms.
“My memories of Baumgartner is of an innovator. We tried the first two cases on CourtTV, the “love triangle” in Tennessee in the 90s,” he said.
In the years to follow, Baumgartner would preside over two of the area’s biggest murder trials: Thomas
“Zoo Man” Huskey and Raynella Dossett Leath. Isaacs called him a good jurist with a lot of passion.
“Richard was very emotional and he was very smart. And he would call you out in the hallway and tell you what he thought.”