Harlem Fave Deborah Batts, First Openly Gay Federal Judge, Passes At 72 (Services Update)

February 8, 2020

Deborah Anne Batts, April 13, 1947 – February 3, 2020, was a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. In June 1994, Deborah Batts was sworn in as a United States District Judge for Manhattan, becoming the nation’s first openly LGBT, African-American federal judge. She took senior status on her 65th birthday, April 13, 2012.

Education and career

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Batts received an Artium Baccalaureus degree from Radcliffe College in 1969, and a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1972. She subsequently clerked for Judge Lawrence Pierce on the Federal Court on which she now serves as a Judge. She was an Assistant United States Attorney from 1979 to 1984. In 1984, she became an Associate Professor of Law at Fordham University School of Law. She was a special associate counsel to the Department of Investigation for New York City from 1990 to 1991.

Federal judicial service

On January 27, 1994, following the recommendation of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, President Bill Clinton nominated Batts to a seat on the Southern District left open in 1989 when Judge Richard Owen took senior status. Batts was confirmed by the United States Senate on May 6, 1994, and received her commission on May 9, 1994. She took senior status on April 13, 2012. She continued to serve concurrently as an adjunct professor at Fordham University.

Major cases

  • 1999 – the criminal trial of Cheng Yong Wang and Xingqi Fu, charged in a scheme to arrange transplant of organs taken from executed Chinese prisoners.[citation needed]
  • 2001-04 – the criminal trial of Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, charged with stabbing jail guard while awaiting a separate trial in 1998 United States embassy bombings conspiracy.[citation needed]
  • 2006 – civil suit against former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Christine Todd Whitman alleging that she misled people near World Trade Center site about risks of toxic air pollution after the September 11, 2001 attacks.[citation needed]
  • 2008 – commercial litigation between Exxon Mobil and PdVSA with regards to Venezuela’s expropriation of Exxon assets in the Orinoco Basin of Venezuela.[citation needed]
  • 2009 – litigation regarding the publication of an unauthorized “sequel” to “Catcher in the Rye”. Batts ordered an injunction to stop the book to going to press.[citation needed]
  • 2011 – Overruled by the 2nd Circuit in the case of Skaftorous v US where her decision that US District Courts have the authority to decide issues of foreign (in this case, Greek) law was rejected. According to the 2nd Circuit opinion, “It is not the business of our courts to assume responsibility for supervising the integrity of the judicial system of another sovereign nation.” In addition, “US Courts are strongly discouraged from reviewing whether the demanding country has complied with its own laws.” 667 F.3d 144 (2d Cir. 2011)

On February 3rd, 2020, the NY Newsday reported that Judge Batts was slated to oversee the Michael Avenatti’s Stormy Daniels-related embezzlement trial. Avenatti is currently standing trial before another judge on charges of attempting to extort Nike out of more than $20 million.

Blavity reports that tributes have been pouring in to honor the life and legacy of iconic Manhattan federal Judge Deborah Batts, the country’s first openly gay federal judge, reports CNN.

Her service terminated on February 3, 2020, due to her death in New York City. She died due to complications from knee surgery at a rehabilitation center in Manhattan. Batts passed away at the age of 72, leaving behind a wife and two children. According to a press release from Fordham Law School, Batts died in her sleep on Sunday.

Judge Batts, who served for a quarter-century on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, died on February 3rd at the age of 72.  She was the first openly gay judge to sit on the federal bench, who presided over prominent cases involving political corruption, terrorism and the Central Park Five civil case.

Update: A memorial service for the Hon. Deborah A. Batts will be held on February 10th at 11:00 AM at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue (at 112th Street), Manhattan.

Photo credit: Via Wikipedia.

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