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Senate: No Judicial Diversion for Public Servants

Legislators say they want to make sure their own kind get more than a slap on the wrist if they’re caught breaking the law and abusing the public trust.

The legislation comes almost a year after Richard Baumgartner, a former criminal court judge in Knoxville, pleaded guilty to official misconduct for illegally using prescription painkillers he acquired from drug offenders who’d appeared in his court. Baumgartner was granted diversion, which allowed him to avoid serving jail time.

“I think that people who hold public office ought to be held to a higher standard,” said Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, who is sponsoring the bill.

Yager told TNReport the Baumgartner scandal “was certainly one of several” involving East Tennessee public officials that prompted him to sponsor the legislation — although he declined to get specific.

“That’s not to say that 99 percent of the state and local officials in this state aren’t hardworking, conscientious and honest, but it’s that less than one percent who commit malfeasance in their office give everybody else a bad name,” Yager said.

The measure would add to the list of crimes not eligible for diversion “any offense committed by any elected or appointed person in the executive, legislative or judicial branch of the state or any political division of the state, which offense was committed in the person’s official capacity or involved the duties of the person’s office.”

Even though nobody voted against the bill, not everybody was for it. Three senators abstained from voting on SB2566: Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis, and Joe Haynes, D-Nashville.

“If you’re going to take off diversion for that crime, we need to consider a lot of other crimes,” Haynes told reporters after speaking out against the bill on the Senate floor. “Not that people who do that shouldn’t be punished. Sure they should. But diversion shouldn’t be removed for that crime any more than it should be removed… for embezzlers or any other serious crime.”

Baumgartner pleaded guilty to one felony count of official misconduct and was granted two years of parole instead of a prison sentence for the conviction. Defense lawyers in numerous cases over which Baumgartner presided either have or are considering asking for retrials because Judge Baumgartner was likely impaired on the bench during court proceedings.

If he avoids further brushes with the law, Baumgartner’s record will be wiped clean after two years due to the current diversion law.

In Tennessee, diversion is applicable in certain cases involving a first-time offender. The second chance is granted in cases where the defendant has never been granted pretrial or judicial diversion, has not been convicted for a felony, or a Class A or B misdemeanor. Diversion is available if the crime at hand is not a Class A or B felony, DUI,  misdemeanor sex offense or conspiracy, attempt, or solicitation of certain sex offenses.

The companion House measure, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, has yet to move in a House Judiciary subcommittee this year, but is scheduled for a hearing Thursday.

Mark Engler contributed to this report.

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Press Releases

Senate Dems Attack Campfield, Say He’s Out of Touch on Pre-K

Press Release from Senate Democratic Caucus; Aug. 18, 2010:

Campfield at Odds with East Tennesseans’ Support of Early Childhood Education

KNOXVILLE – In repeatedly making erroneous and misleading comments about Tennessee’s highly successful pre-K program, Rep. Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville), the Republican nominee for State Senate District 7, has proven himself out of step with the community he wants to represent and the colleagues he hopes to join.

“Representative Campfield seems to have little to no idea what pre-K programs do, how they are funded or their role in education,” said Sen. Andy Berke (D-Chattanooga), Secretary of the Senate Education Committee and a member of the Joint Committee on Education Oversight. “His opposition to pre-K shows a lack of interest in how we bring jobs to Tennessee in both the short and long run.”

Campfield has long been an opponent of the pre-K program, which has proven highly successful in preparing students for early elementary school classes. The program is supported by The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry and the Tennessee Business Roundtable, and the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce features pre-K in publications encouraging people to move to the city.

The reforms and strategies implemented through the state’s successful pre-K program were also crucial to Tennessee winning $501 million in federal education Race to the Top funds.

Campfield attacked pre-K in an August 15 entry on his blog, erroneously claiming that Gov. Phil Bredesen “continues to raid the lottery scholarship fund to pay for a program that has repeatedly proven to be without long term value. The pre K program.”

Campfield apparently failed to pay attention while voting for the budget, which provides that pre-K is paid for entirely out of the state’s general fund. Instead, he writes erroneously that, “the governors (sic) Pre K program … continues to be funded by the lottery scholarship fund.”

But Campfield doesn’t just get the facts wrong about pre-K and education. He continues to hold a position contrary to that of his Knoxville-area Republican colleagues in the Senate, including Sen. Jamie Woodson, who is listed as a champion of pre-K expansion by advocacy group pre[k]now, a campaign of the Pew Center on the States.

“Senator Jamie Woodson is [then-]Chair of the Education Committee and a rising leader of the Tennessee General Assembly,” states preknow.org. “Her support for the sizable pre-k expansions of 2005 and 2006 are widely credited with helping the initiatives become reality.”

Sen. Doug Overbey (R-Maryville) has also shown his support for pre-K, saying in a pre[k]now publication that early education programs in his district were in heavy demand. Sen. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), as chair of the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee, has overseen the passage of four budgets including pre-K since 2007.

Even Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Haslam, Knoxville’s mayor, has said he supports the continued funding of pre-K, especially in his home county.

“I would hate to see the pre-K that’s in place now cut, because I think you do have some very effective models, and this is one of them,” Haslam told TNReport.com in an April 27, 2010 report.

The overwhelming support for pre-K from business interests and his Knoxville Republican colleagues doesn’t seem to affect Rep. Campfield’s position. Instead, Campfield has repeatedly ignored his mistakes about the issue and has even lashed out at sitting senators.

“For Representative Campfield, it’s easier to get the facts wrong and argue than hear from community leaders on critical matters like education,” Berke said. “I worry that when we face tough choices in the future, Stacey Campfield just isn’t going to take the time to listen to anyone but himself.”

Knoxville businessman Randy Walker is the Democratic nominee opposing Campfield in District 7. He supports early childhood education and wants to continue the successful pre-K program established by Gov. Phil Bredesen.

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Press Releases

Haslam Raises More than $8.7M

Press Release from Bill Haslam for Governor; July 13, 2010:

NASHVILLE – The generosity and support from thousands of Tennesseans puts Republican gubernatorial candidate and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam in the strongest position heading into the Early Voting period.

Disclosure filings from Haslam’s campaign show the successful two-term Mayor of Knoxville raised $1.7 million from 3,075 contributions during April, May and June with voters identifying Haslam and his leadership experience, proven record of success and temperament as best to lead Tennessee.

“Crissy and I are grateful for all of the support we’ve received from all 95 counties in this campaign,” Haslam said. “We’ve planned our work and are working our plan. And the generosity we’ve seen on this campaign puts us exactly in the position we wanted to be in at this stage of the campaign.”

Haslam has worked hard campaigning across the state with his wife Crissy during the past 18 months, and voters are drawn to his common-sense solutions to the state’s challenges.

The growth in support is reflected in three recent polls showing Bill Haslam as the strongest GOP contender in the field as well as the state’s three largest newspapers endorsing Haslam as the candidate with the maturity and experience to be Tennessee’s next governor.

“We have organizers in every county, and we’re prepared for the early voting period that begins this Friday,” said Mark Cate, Campaign Manager. “Since March, Bill Haslam has laid out clear, common-sense solutions for job creation, budget management and strengthening education that are put together in his Jobs4TN plan, and in these polls and other indications of support you’re seeing the cumulative effect of his hard work and dedication to serving Tennessee.”

“To have the success Bill Haslam has had on the trail is incredible during this political and economic climate,” said Kim Kaegi, Campaign Finance Director. “Tennesseans are overwhelmingly choosing him because of his ideas, his passion for serving Tennessee and most of all, his capacity to serve Tennessee as the chief executive of the state during these difficult times.”

Mayor Haslam is the two-term Republican Mayor of Knoxville, reelected in 2007 with 87 percent of the vote. A hardworking, conservative public servant, Haslam led Knoxville to become one of the top ten metropolitan areas for business and expansion, while reducing the city’s debt, tripling the rainy day fund, reducing the number of city employees to the lowest amount in 15 years and bringing property taxes to the lowest rate in 50 years. An executive leader with a proven record of success, he helped grow his family’s small business from 800 employees into one of Tennessee’s largest companies with 14,000 employees.

For more information on Bill Haslam, please visit www.BillHaslam.com.