Nashville, Tenn.– The State of Tennessee requested the Tennessee Supreme Court to review the order granting new trials to three of the four defendants convicted of the first degree murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. Today, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that a trial judge’s misconduct outside the courtroom does not necessarily require a new trial unless the misconduct is shown to have affected the trial proceedings.
The Court acknowledged that “the public’s confidence in the judiciary is undermined by irresponsible and improper conduct of judges in both their professional and personal pursuits.” The Court described former Judge Richard Baumgartner’s misconduct outside the courtroom as “a clear and palpable” violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct, and cautioned that its “order should not be construed as condoning or excusing” Judge Baumgartner’s misconduct.
When the original trial judge is removed from a case, the new trial judge has broad discretion to decide whether a new trial is required. The rules of criminal procedure permit a new judge to grant a new trial if the judge cannot approve the verdict because he or she did not preside at the trial or for any other reason.
The Court decided that the order granting the new trials in these cases must be vacated because the defendants had not shown that former Judge Baumgartner’s misconduct outside the courtroom affected their trials. The Court sent these cases back to the trial court to expeditiously reconsider the defendants’ motions for new trial under the legal standards as clarified in the Court’s ruling.