In the pending disciplinary action against Alabama Circuit Judge Dorothea Batiste, it probably would be hard to find a more perfect comparator than Suzanne Childers, who perhaps is best known for toting a gun to court. Both women sat as judges in the Domestic Relations Division of Jefferson County. Both did not hesitate to use contempt powers in cases where it appeared parties were ignoring court orders.
The record presents one glaring difference between the two women--Batiste is black, and Childers is white. Here is another difference: Batiste is facing possible sanctions from the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission (AJIC) for allegedly making excessive use of her contempt powers; Childers never faced such an inquiry, even though records show her use of contempt power dwarfed that of Batiste.
Does that suggest the AJIC is going after Batiste because of the color of her skin? Put more bluntly, does it mean the AJIC is a racist organization?
A review of documents in the Batiste case could lead a reasonable person to conclude that the answer to both questions is yes.
Julian McPhillips, the Montgomery-based attorney who represents Batiste, puts the discrimination question front and center in a Motion for Summary Judgment that calls for the charges against Batiste to be dropped. (See summary judgment motion at the end of this post.)
Central to Batiste's defense is her contention that AJIC rules preclude investigation of a judge for alleged erroneous rulings, absent evidence of bad faith. And Batiste claims that the AJIC does not even make firm allegations of bad faith, much less present any evidence of it. From the summary judgment motion:
Even though the AJIC only sparsely hints at bad faith, in the alternative, the fact is that the AJIC cannot point to one shred of evidence that Judge Batiste did engage in bad faith. As such, the AJIC does not meet the requirement of its own rules, which state:
"It (AJIC) does not review either final judgments or allegations of legal error or abuse of judicial discretion during a court proceeding absent evidence of bad faith."
As has been amply argued in the preceding pages of this motion and brief, there is a total absence of bad faith on the part of Judge Batiste, and as a result Judge Batiste is due to receive summary judgment in her favor on this issue.
As aforestated, all the complaints against her revolve around her allegedly misguided or misinformed use of the contempt power in a court proceeding. The AJIC Rules do not allow the AJIC or the Court of the Judiciary to review either "allegations of legal error or abuse of judicial discretion during a court proceeding absent evidence of bad faith." But that is what the AJIC has done. Hence, Judge Batiste is entitled to summary judgment.
McPhillips makes a powerful case. He argues that, even if Batiste mistakenly used her contempt powers, that does not mean she did so in bad faith--and the AJIC has neither alleged nor shown that she acted in bad faith. Based on the commission's own rules, it is not allowed to investigate Batiste's actions, much less impose discipline upon her.
Finally, reflecting on a standard for measuring Judge Batiste's good faith, when compared to other judges, are five copies of orders from a white female judge, Suzanne Childers, all in 2011-2012 (the same time period Batiste is being questioned about), wherein Judge Childers confined parties, respectively, for 325 days, 520 days, 310 days, 355 days, and 255 days. By contrast, the most Judge Batiste ever ordered someone confined was for 12 days, and usually no more than 2-3 days. (See Exhibits H, I, J, K and L.)
Those numbers are staggering, so let's put them in perspective. Childers confined one party for more than one year, three others for almost one year each, and another for almost nine months.
But Dorothea Batiste is the one on trial for excessive use of contempt power?
The U.S. Supreme Court, in Shelby County v. Holder, recently overturned a key section of the Voting Rights Act by more or less stating that we no longer have reason to worry much about mistreatment of racial minorities in Alabama.
You never would know it from studying the case of Dorothea Batiste.