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Deborah Batts (1947 – 2020), pioneering judge who was overseeing Michael Avenatti trial

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She was the nation's first openly LGBTQ federal judge

Deborah Batts was the nation’s first openly LGBTQ federal judge, who was set to oversee Michael Avenatti’s Stormy Daniels-related embezzlement trial. She was nominated for a federal judgeship by President Bill Clinton in 1994, and she was sworn in later that year after a smooth confirmation hearing. Serving as the U.S. District Judge for Manhattan, Batts oversaw cases including a 2006 civil suit against an EPA administrator who was accused of misleading the public about the risk of toxic air pollution around the site of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

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Died: February 3, 2020 (Who else died on February 3?)

Details of death: Died at the age of 72.


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Early career: Prior to becoming a federal judge in 1994, Batts was an assistant U.S. attorney for almost 15 years. An alumna of Harvard Law School, she was an associate professor at Fordham University School of Law, a position she continued as an adjunct even as she served on the federal bench.

What people said about her: “Judge Batts was a trailblazer who broke new ground and inspired many NYers and young lawyers to fight for justice. She also previously swore me in at a community swearing-in event. She was a friend and fighter for progress. She will be profoundly missed.” —U.S. Rep. Nydia Velasquez

“Deborah Batts was a trailblazer in every respect: an openly gay African-American woman who became a United States District Judge after a distinguished career as a federal prosecutor and law professor. It will be difficult to replace her. Our hearts are broken at her premature passing.” —Chief Judge Colleen McMahon

Full obituary: The New York Times

Related lives:

  • Damon Keith (1922 - 2019), federal judge promoted equality
  • Ernest Finney (1931 - 2017), South Carolina’s first African-American chief justice
  • John Paul Stevens (1920 - 2019), retired Supreme Court justice