Bill Would Allow Drug Testing Of TN Judges

Feb 7, 2014

Knoxville Judge Richard Baumgartner stepped down from the bench and was disbarred in 2011 after revelations he had acquired and abused prescription painkillers.

Two East Tennessee legislators have introduced a bill that would allow the testing of criminal court judges for illegal drug use.  The bill was created as a response to  Knoxville's 2009 Christian/Newsom murder trials, in which presiding Judge Richard Baumgartner abused painkillers while on the bench.

State Senator Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) and State Representative Ryan Haynes (R- Knoxville) introduced the bill this week.  It gives either party in a criminal trial the right to request a test if they suspect the judge is using drugs.  If the test is negative, or the judge tests positive for a legal prescription drug, the trial continues.  If the judge fails the test, he or she will be replaced with another judge.

With a drug test in place, neither the prosecution nor the defense could appeal a trial because the judge was impaired.

Tennessee is the fourth state to consider drug testing for judges this year.  Bills have also been introduced in Missouri, Pennsylvania and Mississippi.

A bill introduced in 2012 would have ordered the Tennessee Supreme Court to create a random drug testing plan for judges, but that bill never made it out of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee. 

Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom were raped, tortured and murdered in Knoxville in 2007.  Five people were arrested in connection with the crimes and all five were convicted.  However, retrials were ordered for four of the suspects when Baumgartner admitted he had been acquiring and abusing prescription drugs during the trial.  Baumgartner was eventually disbarred and after a long series of motions and rulings, two of the cases were retried. Both ended with convictions.