Circuit Judge Dorothea Batiste, who is under suspension from the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC), makes the allegations against J. Scott Vowell, who served on the bench from 1995 until his retirement at the end of 2012. Batiste alleges that Vowell orchestrated JIC complaints against her in retaliation for rejecting his sexual advances, which started about three months after she took office in January 2011.
The JIC complaint against Batiste is based mainly on her alleged abuse of contempt powers in domestic-relations cases. But Batiste alleges in her EEOC complaint that Vowell took no action against a white female judge who made ample use of her contempt powers in the domestic-relations division. (The full EEOC complaint, with exhibits, can be viewed at the end of this post.)
In essence, Batiste alleges that Vowell unlawfully served in her cases as an appellate judge, a role that goes far beyond the duties of a presiding judge under Alabama law. If proven, Vowell's actions could make him the target of lawsuits for acting outside his jurisdiction. They might constitute criminal contempt of court and could even rise to the level of criminal acts under state and federal law.
How brazen was Vowell? Batiste spells it out on page 2 of her EEOC complaint:
Even back in 2011, but continuing on into 2012, Judge Vowell would make a point of upsetting me by finding cases where I had issued rulings and, without telling me in advance he was doing so, then would enter documentary paperwork to change my rulings. In addition, Judge Vowell took cases away from me, without my permission or knowledge, to favor certain litigants, some of whom were his friends. This included certain lawyers. When I found out about this, I was quite upset and told him he should not be doing this--that it was not right, nor ethical, and it had to stop. In reply, Judge Vowell said, "I don't care what you have to say."
The material in bold strongly suggests that Vowell was not just discriminating against Batiste--he also was acting to favor certain litigants and lawyers with whom he was friendly. If proven, this represents a gross obstruction of the justice process and indicates that Vowell probably has knowingly been involved in the hunting-club corruption that has infested Jefferson County divorce courts for years.
Multiple federal lawsuits have been filed over hunting-club issues, with Samford University law professor Joseph Blackburn playing a leading role for plaintiffs, but the cases have been dismissed on dubious grounds so far. In one federal case, Blackburn represented himself as a plaintiff, claiming his divorce from U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn was tainted with corruption. In another, Blackburn served as an attorney for a number of Jefferson County residents who alleged they were victims of a rigged divorce-court system.
We have written extensively about the hunting-club issue, noting the apparent efforts of federal judges to dismiss the cases and deny discovery, contrary to law. Here are three key posts we've written on the subject:
Courts Try to Sweep Hunting-Club Corruption Under the Rug in Alabama (May 8, 2012)
Here Is More Evidence That Federal Judges Are Trying to Hide Hunting-Club Corruption in Alabama (Aug. 13, 2012)
Why Were No Opinions Issued On Appeals of Alabama Hunting-Club Lawsuits? (Sept. 4, 2012)
The public record shows that, at the very least, Scott Vowell allowed hunting-club corruption to fester on his watch as presiding judge. But Batiste's allegations, if proven, indicate Vowell actively took part in the corruption.
Batiste's EEOC complaint indicates Vowell undermined her authority at almost every turn:
What especially upset me, starting at the end of the summer of 2011 and continuing into 2012, was that Judge Vowell (as he himself later has admitted in a letter) started meeting with lawyers representing litigants in my courtroom. [See Judge Vowell's letter admitting to it. Exhibit 1.] However, it also later became obvious that Judge Vowell was stirring up lawyers unhappy with their client's rulings in my courtroom. Of course, in a divorce case, one side is always unhappy, and frequently both sides. Both sides are usually quite unhappy even before they get to the courtroom.
As for use of contempt powers, Batiste says Vowell seemed unconcerned when such powers were used by a white judge. Batiste points to Circuit Judge Suzanne Childers, who became known for carrying a gun on the bench:
There is another example of disparate treatment given by Judge Vowell to a white female judge, namely [Suzanne] Childers, of the Jefferson County Circuit, Domestic Relations Division. She sentenced litigant Keith Muhammad to 325 days . . . for non-payment of child support, and he actually served it from October 6, 2011, to January 5, 2012. In fact, this judge issued such orders on a routine basis (sometimes putting 2 to 3 people in jail in different cases on the same day). Scott Vowell never complained about Ms. Childers to the AJIC. Instead, when she asked for extra help, Scott Vowell gave it to her. [See Exhibit 7].