J. Scott Vowell retired in January as presiding judge. But Circuit Judge Dorothea Batiste says that, before leaving office, Vowell launched a harassment campaign against her that included unwanted sexual advances. Batiste also alleges in a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that Vowell referred to her as "the colored Republican."
The Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) suspended Batiste with pay amid allegations that she had abused her contempt powers. Batiste says in an affidavit supporting her EEOC complaint that Vowell led the campaign against her in retaliation for spurning his sexual advances.
Batiste was elected in November 2010 to a judgeship in the domestic-relations division, and she quickly experienced peculiar behavior from the presiding judge. From the Batiste affidavit:
By April 2011, Judge Vowell had become very flirtatious toward me. Although there are 38 judges total in the Jefferson County Circuit Court system, Scott Vowell started making it a practice to come see me at least once a week in my office. When he came in, the door would close behind him.
At first, Judge Vowell engaged in small talk, such as, "How are you doing, etc.," and sometimes would give me a hug. One day however in April 2011, Judge Vowell came up to me. placed his body directly in front of me, and then put his arms down by my waist, with his fingers just above my buttocks area, and with his mouth near my ear, whispered, "Boy, you're a hot little thing, and you're looking good in that dress today." However, I brushed him off and stood there in shock. Judge Vowell left the room, without saying anything more."
Batiste discovered that, throughout 2012 and well into 2013, Vowell encouraged attorneys and litigants to file JIC complaints against her.:
Word had circulated in the divorce case industry around Jefferson County that, if one was unhappy with my ruling, all he or she had to do was go see Judge Vowell, and he would help the unhappy litigant file a complaint against me.
In May or June 2012, it got back to me that Scott Vowell was derisively referring to me as "the colored Republican." Several people told me this when they called to express their support. They were quoting Judge Vowell.
Batiste soon found herself the target of numerous JIC complaints. Vowell, Batiste says, has long-standing ties to the JIC and the Alabama Court of the Judiciary:
It became painfully obvious to me that this burst of complaints . . . were so encouraged or inspired by Judge Vowell that it clearly reflected his efforts to retaliate against me for not caving in to his demands and sexual overtures months earlier. Scott Vowell is a very clever and intelligent man, and thus attempted to cleverly disguise his retaliation by making it look like the complaint really came from another attorney or litigant. While I do not object to my judicial conduct being scrutinized by the [JIC] or the general public, I greatly object . . . to how much Judge Vowell did to stimulate these complaints, especially for what I believe was unlawful retaliation, based on my rejecting his sexual advances.