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.