That is at the heart of a petition from Batiste attorney Julian McPhillips, asking the state's high court to take jurisdiction and issue a restraining order against the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission (AJIC) and its Court of the Judiciary. (See Part 1 and Part 2 of the petition and Batiste's response at the end of this post.)
In a letter accompanying the petition, McPhillips notes that complaints largely have come from former Jefferson County presiding judge Scott Vowell and not from litigants or parties who appeared before Judge Batiste. "To allow complaints stimulated by a third party such as Vowell . . . ," McPhillips writes, "violates the Code of Alabama's grant of authority to the AJIC."
McPhillips goes on to state:
This case has morphed into an abuse of process, because the AJIC has allowed itself to be transformed into a Super Appellate Court of Alabama to review decisions of Judge Batiste, even when the litigants are not complaining.
It is also obvious that Scott Vowell has developed a runaway ego, in which he is power-tripping by trying to show Judge Batiste that he is more powerful than she, and that, by golly, if he complains, he's going to make the complaint stick.
How did the AJIC violate its own rules? McPhillips points to two primary issues.
First, the main charge against Batiste is that she abused her discretionary contempt power against parties and witnesses who failed to appear in court. The commission's handbook for judges, McPhillips states, includes the following language:
The Commission . . . does not review . . . abuse of judicial discretion during a court proceeding absent evidence of bad faith.
That seems clear-cut, but McPhillips says the commission does not seem to be familiar with its own handbook:
Nowhere in the 38-page AJIC complaint with 23 pages of exhibits is there any allegation that Judge Batiste engaged in bad faith, notwithstanding that the 147-paragraph complaint basically alleges abuses of discretion by Batiste in the use of her contempt power.
McPhillips then points to AJIC Rule 6 (concerning "Investigations"), which states:
Investigations may be instituted by the Commission only upon a verified complaint filed either by a member of the public or by a member of the commission . . .
Is the commission following its own rule. McPhillips says it's not even close:
Almost all of the complaints Scott Vowell has forwarded to the AJIC contain an unverified typed letter in which Judge Vowell purports to pass on complaints of unhappy litigants, which complaints are mostly also unverified. Many of these complaints do not reflect the subject matter of the complaint, or whether it was a litigant or attorney who was unhappy. These complaints are essentially anonymous, contrary to AJIC rules.
The AJIC has . . . allowed former Jefferson County presiding Circuit Judge Scott Vowell to further abuse the process of the AJIC by stirring up litigants, witnesses, and attorneys, unhappy with Judge Batiste's divorce court rulings, through encouraging them, or assisting them, in filing multiple complaints against Ms. Batiste. Many of said complaints are frivolous or nonsensical. Some even involved two attorneys long since dead, namely Rusty Wright and Chris Christ. Indeed, one such frivolous complaint even involved a litigant supposedly unhappy with a continuation of the misspelling by Judge Batiste's office of the litigant's name, notwithstanding that the original misspelling began with the litigant's attorney. Reflecting his bad faith, Judge Vowell even encouraged this complaint.