Leaderboard 728 X 90

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Judge Dorothea Batiste Achieves A "Modest Victory" With Three-Month Suspension In Disciplinary Trial


Dorothea Batiste
Jefferson County Circuit Judge Dorothea Batiste has received a three-month suspension from the bench at the conclusion of a three-day disciplinary trial in Montgomery, an outcome her attorneys called a "modest victory."

The Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission (AJIC) charged Batiste with making improper use of her contempt powers in domestic-relations cases, and she faced possible removal from the bench. But the Court of Judiciary ruled yesterday  afternoon that Batiste should be suspended from the bench for three months.

"The court did find that she violated the Canons of Judicial Ethics, but they gave her far less punishment than what the JIC had argued for," Batiste's lawyer Julian McPhillips said. "The best they had offered us was a 10-month suspension, and she got three months and a reprimand, with no censure.


"We consider it at least a modest victory, against all odds--on a very uneven playing field."


Retired Presiding Judge J. Scott Vowell led the effort to file complaints against Batiste, and her lawyers argued that she was the victim of a vindictive prosecution because of Vowell's anger that she had filed a complaint against him with the Alabama Attorney General's Office.

We reported yesterday that the case against Batiste was driven largely by her decision to do away with a special masters program in her court. That decision proved to be highly unpopular with a number of domestic-relations lawyers who are close to Vowell.

JIC prosecutor Griffin Sikes argued yesterday that Batiste had deprived parties of due process because she had not given them notice or hearings in which they could defend themselves for failing to appear in court. From a report at al.com:


In its opinion this afternoon, the court agreed Batiste had violated due process. "Judge Batiste, the court finds that your conduct has demonstrated a cavalier disregard for the due-process rights of litigants and witnesses guaranteed by both the United States and Alabama constitutions," according to the court's ruling read by J. Michael Joiner, a member of the state criminal court of appeals who also sits as chief judge on the court of the judiciary. "Due process is one of our most basic rights and we find that the violations of these rights, as demonstrated by the evidence presented in this case, are serious."


Batiste's lawyers, however, said the court must have recognized that any improper rulings by Batiste were mild compared to flagrantly unlawful contempt findings issued by other Alabama judges.

One case that was raised in court documents involved Clanton resident Bonnie Cahalane, who was jailed for five months last year by Chilton County Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds--even though black-letter Alabama law says a party cannot be subject to contempt and incarceration due to an alleged debt from dissolution of a marriage. Also, Cahalane's house has been ordered sold, even though the alleged sales agreement was reached with her under the duress of returning to jail, meaning the contract is void.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

This was more than a "modest victory" for Judge Batiste. This was a huge victory. The whole process was set up to get her off the bench, and it was rigged from the outset. Something happened to change the outcome. Not sure what it was, but for her to stand up to Scott Vowell and remain on the bench . . . well, that is big, not modest.

Anonymous said...

I think the NAACP happened, for one thing.

Anonymous said...

She was suspended without pay? That part of it sucks.

Anonymous said...

I find it odd that the press said very little about witnesses who testified on Batiste's behalf. Surely, someone stood up for her. You'd never know it from reading al.com.

Anonymous said...

I hear Batiste had a witness who was prepared to blow the roof off Scott Vowell's "Tiny Kingdom." Perhaps that caused the JIC to decide on a mild suspension.

Anonymous said...

The complaints against her came from the people who were jailed for no reason, without a hearing and without bond. I wonder how many cases she tried and has not written an order. There will probably be many more complaints filed against her.

Anonymous said...

The real story here is that Scott Vowell was telling Batiste how to rule on cases, and she said no. He's been doing that for years, and someone finally stood up to him. Not sure how this all plays out, but to some extent, Scott Vowell finally has been exposed.

Anonymous said...

Lawyers and Judges have an obligation to report other lawyers or Judges when they see clear violations of the rules of ethics all lawyer and Judges have to obey. As the presiding Judge, Scott Vowell honored his obligation on behalf of the people who were unlawfully jailed. Those folks were denied due process, a clear violation of the U.S. and Alabama Constitutions.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for following up on this. There were witnesses prepared to unveil a few things about Vowell. They will have the opportunity to testify down the road, at a hearing with the EEOC. Others who have info about Vowell should come forth at this time.

Anonymous said...

This site lost all credibility coming to the defense of Judge Batiste. This woman's actions are abhorrant. Issuing a "no bond" order on people who haven't even received notice they are going to be jail is despicable.

Anonymous said...

Re: Who stood up for Batiste?

Her own witnesses apparently made her look crazy or incompetent. A lawyer tesified for her and said orders she issued were incorrect, but were "mistakes."

Anonymous said...

Are you saying the people who were held in contempt really did show up for court, as ordered, @8:16?

Robby Scott Hill said...

One of the reasons why Judge Batiste was not permanently removed from the bench is because the abuse of power under failure to appear & contempt of court provisions is the rule rather than the exception in Alabama. Most judges come from prosecutor's offices & politically connected law firms where elected officials are partners. While Judges are independent in theory, they frequently allow themselves to be strong armed by their former employers. Folks who aren't well connected get deprived of due process all the time. Prosecutors and "big law" don't want to practice in a world where they can't have uncooperative people jailed easily.

Kenneth Paschal said...

After observing the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission (AJIC) trial involving charges against Judge Dorothea Batiste, my question is: Why is this particular judge being singled out?

This goes on every day in almost all Alabama courtrooms. For example, a Chilton County Judge ordered a mother of two held on an unlawful contempt charge for nearly six months, yet nothing has been done. Also, after almost a decade of complaints and seventy-four charges against Montgomery County Judge Patricia Warner, the ACOJ allowed her to walk away in 2011 with all of her orders and cases which involved children in abusive situations to remain in place. There have been several cases in the Limestone area where a judge has held individuals in contempt without giving the accused a means to purge themselves. A Shelby County judge and a recently retired judge from Jefferson County have both charged litigants with contempt while disregarding their due process rights as guaranteed by both the United States and Alabama constitutions. And all of these complaints have fallen on deaf ears.

Judge Batiste’s attorney, Julian McPhillips, said in his opening statement on Monday that Judge Childers has held numerous individuals in contempt for similar reasons that were used as complaints against Judge Batiste, and actually kept people in jail for longer periods of time. Again, the question I present is: Why is it this particular judge is being singled out?

All judges that violate due process must be held accountable and by the same standards. What are the standards?

Robby Scott Hill said...

There are no identifiable standards Kenneth. They just make the shit up as they go at the hunting club, golf course, tennis court or bar room. Clerks and legal assistants are left to work out the details for an average of $12 an hour while the judges and attorneys get their liquor on & have fun. You can't have accountability without identifying the specific facts and incidences and applying punishment across the board to everyone who is in violation. Every manager in the corporate world knows this, but they don't teach it in law school.

Anonymous said...

I have e-mailed Jenny Garrett at the Judicial Inquiry Commission asking her how the Commission could conduct a full investigation on Judge Batiste, but completely disregard Judge Reynolds, when she has knowledge of what Reynolds did to Ms. Wyatt because there was documentation produced to JIC in 2 formal complaints made against Reynolds. As of today I have yet to hear from Ms. Garrett.....

legalschnauzer said...

Thank you. Please keep us posted.