Disgraced former Judge Richard Baumgartner found dead

Richard Baumgartner, who served 19 years as Knox County Criminal Court judge before resigning in disgrace amidst a drug scandal, died Tuesday at the age of 70, reports the News Sentinel.

A family member found the former judge unconscious at his home on Rush Miller Road in East Knox County around 4:15 p.m., according to Knox County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Martha Dooley. Deputies found no signs of foul play at the scene but gave no indication of cause of death, pending an autopsy.

Baumgartner, a New York native, graduated from the University of Tennessee School of Law and practiced in Knoxville as a defense attorney before Gov. Ned McWherter appointed him to the Criminal Court bench in 1992 to replace Randy Nichols, who had stepped down to serve as district attorney general.

Baumgartner held the post until March 2011, when he resigned and pleaded guilty to official misconduct for buying pain pills from a felon on probation in his court. He headed to federal prison two years later to serve a six-month sentence for lying to investigators.

After it was revealed that Baumgartner had been snorting painkillers on the bench and holding court while high, defendants in some high-profile cases won new trials.

“To go from being a sitting criminal court judge to being a convicted felon and incarcerated in the federal criminal justice system is a long, long way to fall,” said Knoxville attorney Dennis Francis, who said he’s “known Richard forever.”

“It just seemed one disaster after another was following Richard,” Francis said, “and he was the architect of his own demise.”

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