February 18, 2020
Remembering Judge Deborah Batts
In 2012, I met a remarkable and inspirational judge named Deborah Batts, at a gala dinner in Chicago, hosted by Just The Beginning Foundation. She sat in the audience while I had the honor of being a recipient of one of the many scholarships the organization provides to diverse law students who are entering law school.
Three years later I would meet Judge Batts again, this time in her chambers in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, where I was humbly requesting to serve as a Judicial Law Fellow after my fellowship ended in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals with the honorable Judge Ann Claire Williams, who introduced me to Judge Batts in 2012 at the JTBF gala dinner.
Judge Batts welcomed me with open arms and to this day, both my practice, and my personal life benefit tremendously from my time spent in chambers with Judge Batts. Judge Batts and I had many conversations about our unique backgrounds and what it meant to be courageous and confident despite not being your prototypical anything.
For me, I had overcome a wrongful conviction, made my way through law school, did a fellowship in the same 7th Circuit that reversed my conviction, and was just getting ready to start practicing with the Innocence Project in New York
Judge Batts was the first openly gay judge to sit on the federal bench, confirmed at a time when gay marriage had yet to be accepted by the law. She presided over prominent cases such as the Central Park Five’s civil case during her tenure. And she was the first African-American faculty member at Fordham Law School, where she continued to teach well into her career on the bench.
Judge Batts would often tell me how proud she was that not only did I refuse to give up, but that I didn’t let someone else’s perception of me become my reality, a battle she knew well. Judge Batts shared with me the many challenges and obstacles she met head on throughout her career. Each step of the way Judge Batts displayed unwavering courage, unshakable faith in her own possibilities and those of the world around her. I am truly grateful for each day I spent watching her do just that.
When I left Judge Batts’s chambers in July of 2016, I would often buzz the doors of her chambers to say hello when I was at the federal courthouse. The last time I buzzed the door to Judge Batts chambers, I was told by her current clerk that she had just left to head to the gym.
In hindsight, I dearly regret not waiting until she got back from the gym to thank her one more time for the many ways she has and continues to inspire me. However, it is comforting to know that at the age of 72, Judge Batts never stopped working to get stronger.
With love, respect and my deepest condolences to Judge Batts's family and loved ones.