Shots Across the Bow

A Reality Based Blog


Jaime Satterfield Speaks and A Question for Jack McElroy

Jaime Satterfield participated in a chat with KNS readers over the lunch hour today to answer questions about the Baumgartner case. I was working and unable to participate, but Lissa was able to ask a couple of questions. The chat transcript is here, but I've excerpted a couple of key comments below, because it appears she has answered the question in my last post.

Jamie Satterfield:
Judge Blackwood ruled retrials are necessary for two reasons: Baumgartner was too wasted to act in his role as 13th juror and the trials were unconstitutionally flawed because of the crimes he was committing during those trials
Jamie Satterfield:
We all noticed his behavior on the final day of Vanessa Coleman's trial. I confronted him afterward and he said he had health issues and was taking time off, which he did. When he returned, he initially seemed better
Jamie Satterfield:
It's not his health issues that were the problem. He was committing crimes during these trials and taking 10 to 30 pills a day during these trials

So Satterfield is saying that she was closely watching the judge and the trial at a time when he was taking 10-30 pills a day, and she only noticed anything strange during the last day of the trial when he nearly passed out at the bench. Apparently, observation is not her strong suit.

Another question from the chat asked about the affiliation of the judges involved. Her answer:
Jamie Satterfield:
Baumgartner is a democrat first appointed by gov. mcwherter and later elected by Knox Countians. Blackwood is retired and serves on special cases at the request of the supreme court. Schmutzer, a republican, also is retired but serves as special prosecutor at request of DA's conference. Don't know blackwood's politics. He's pretty darn conservative (Emphasis mine)

Ummm....yeah. 'He's a conservative but I don't know his politics.' Ok, maybe she just doesn't want to make assumptions. But then there's this:
Comment From Hailey
JB sat on the bench under the influence, by his own admittance, for nearly three years. How is it that NO ONE noticed that he was impaired during that time? Not the DA, defense counsel, witnesses, jury members, observers, the media .... No one saw anything out of line???

Jamie Satterfield:
Rich, all I can speak for is myself. What I saw was a man who on most days functioned fine but who on occassion seemed sick and tired. He had an explanation for that. It is documented that he suffered pancreatitis. He used his health as an excuse

As I said earlier, I didn't participate in the chat; Lissa did. Ms Satterfield apparently assumed it was me, possibly because I've questioned the quality of her coverage before, mostly on the Henry Granju case.

Putting everything together, what Ms Satterfield has said is that she accepted without question the excuses given to her by the judge for a continued pattern of poor performance in the courtroom and never once showed any curiosity about whether or not he was telling the truth.

In another part of the chat, she laments that nobody came to her with reports of the judge's behavior. I always thought that reporters were supposed to go out and find the stories, not wait for them to be dropped in their laps. She was in the courtroom day after day. She saw the judge's erratic behavior first hand and it never even occurred to her to investigate it.

Last post, I asked whether it was incompetence or corruption that kept this story from breaking years ago, before the tax payers were placed on the hook for the retrial of potentially thousands of cases. Today, according to Ms. Satterfield, the question has been answered and I guess we should all be grateful that it wasn't corruption.

And now I think the word 'incompetence' was too strong. Complacency, rather than incompetence, seems more applicable to this story. Ms. Satterfield, once engaged, does do a pretty good job at reporting the facts. It seems that sometimes, it's just difficult for her to get engaged. Ms. Satterfield saw what she expected to see, heard what she expected to hear, and never looked beyond the surface. And that's fine for most occupations, but a reporter is supposed to look deeper, isn't she? Aren't reporters supposed to ask the tough questions, to dig for the truth? When did it become the norm for reporters to accept the easy excuse?

My question now is not for Ms. Satterfield; she's given us her answers. She's said that she can sit in a courtroom day after day with a judge who was taking 10-30 prescription pain pills a day, and not notice anything out of the ordinary unless he actually passes out. My kudos to her for her honesty.

My question is for Jack McElroy. Sir, your paper is supposed to be the watchdog of the people. One of your highest functions, as you wrote so eloquently in your blog, is to shine the light on local government, so that the citizens can see that their officials are dong the job they were hired to do effectively and honestly. The TBI report makes it very clear that many people in city and county government were aware of Baumgartner's drug use well before the Christian/Newsome trials. Obviously, a fairly wide array of folks outside of the government knew as well; his doctor, his suppliers, his pharmacist, etc. Others were aware of how he was bending/breaking laws to protect his dealers, and other associates. What the TBI file makes most clear in fact, is that it appears that the only people who didn't know what was going on were employed by the KNS.

So, how did your paper fail so badly at its primary function? How can so many people know about a prominent judge who is also a junkie, and your paper miss the story entirely? Why is it that you needed the TBI to release its investigation when you have a newsroom filled with reporters who should be developing the story themselves? What steps are you taking to improve your performance? Your paper has been accused in the past of being a part of local government rather than a guardian of the public, a charge that must be seen as credible now, given the myopia demonstrated about this story.

On the other hand, if you believe that the KNS did a good job, then tell us why. How is it that you can miss criminal activity by a prominent judge that extends over a period of years and still claim that the KNS is doing its job?

Or to put it another way, what good is a newspaper that fails to find out and report the news?
Posted by Rich
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