A retired judge has agreed to temporarily take on Jefferson County divorce cases after Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Dorothea Batiste was suspended with pay, while a hearing involving complaints against her is pending before the Alabama Court of the Judiciary.
Our Birmingham divorce attorneysunderstand that as of April 23, divorce cases in the county circuit court will be handled by Judge Gary Pate. His assistance will allow all pending divorce cases on Batiste's docket not to become stalled while she is unavailable to continue hearing them.
There may still be some issues with continuity, but those situations can be handled on a case-by-case basis. Pate had once been the presiding circuit court judge in the domestic relations court.
In the meantime, the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission has released a lengthy complaint against Batiste that charges 30 violations of the state's canons of judicial ethics in five of the divorce cases over which she was presiding. Her suspension came immediately following the release of that complaint, which will ultimately be heard before the court of the judiciary, specifically alleges wrongful arrest orders for witnesses or other parties accused of contempt of court in divorce cases.
Specifically, she is accused of repeated failure throughout 2011 and 2012 to comply with Rule 70A of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure pertaining to due process, as outlined in both the state and federal constitutions.
The inquiry commission says that not only are the basis of these arrests in question, but the fact that Batiste additionally ordered that the defendants not be released on bond is being challenged.
The contempt of court arrests involved mostly women but at least one man.
In one of those cases, the arrest warrant was issued for the single mother of a 6-year-old girl after she failed to appear at a court hearing as a witness in a divorce case. It was not her divorce. The woman had contacted her own attorney after finding a subpoena on the door of her unoccupied apartment two days before the scheduled trial date. She had already scheduled a Florida vacation with her family at that time. Her lawyer advised that the subpoena was not properly served and therefore she was not obligated to appear in court.
She called the court to ask if the case was being continued, but the clerk could not give her an answer. She went on her vacation as planned. She later learned Batiste had issued an arrest warrant for her, even though the case had been continued. Further, the commission reported, Batiste ordered that the woman be held without bond – a violation of state law.
When her attorney attempted to schedule a hearing to purge the outstanding warrant, he was informed that the judge wanted the witness to spend some time in jail before she would hear his motion.
The defendant turned herself in on a Friday and the judge scheduled the hearing for the following Monday. However, the judge reportedly refused to allow the defense attorney to argue the law or facts of the case or for the defendant to speak in her own defense.
The defendant was subsequently allowed a conditional release from jail, provided she pay a $950 attorney fee to the representative of the individual she was set to be testifying against.
The five other cases are detailed in this same narrative throughout the commission's complaint.
An attorney for Batiste has called the allegations a "travesty of justice."
If the court of the judiciary finds Batiste has done wrong, it has a number of options for recourse, up to and including removal from her judicial post.
If you are contemplating a divorce in Birmingham, contact Birmingham Family Law Attorney Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.
Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Batiste suspended with pay after complaint about arrest orders for contempt, April 22, 2013, By Kent Faulk, AL.com