A federal judge who was set to preside over one of disgraced attorney Michael Avenatti’s upcoming criminal trials has died.
U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts, the first openly gay person to serve on the federal bench, was discovered dead Monday, the Washington Times reported. She was 72.
Judge Deborah Batts dies
Batts’ passing will likely delay Avenatti’s trial in New York on charges of cheating his former client, porn star Stormy Daniels, out of money from a book deal. The New York case is just one of three that Avenatti, who is also accused of trying to extort millions from Nike and of stealing settlement money from clients, is facing in New York and California.
Judge Batts was confirmed to the bench in 1994 after being appointed by former President Bill Clinton at a time when Clinton was struggling to implement a gay rights agenda in his first term. Upon learning of her death, chief judge of the Manhattan court, Colleen McMahon, praised Batts as a “trailblazer.”
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. She will be remembered by her colleagues for her devotion to the work of the court, for her mentorship of a cadre of young lawyers of all backgrounds, and for her infectious smile and extraordinary collegiality.
Batts also previously served as a law professor at Fordham University School of Law. She earned an undergraduate degree at Radcliffe College in 1969 and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1972.
Avenatti’s troubles mount
Batts died three months before she was slated to oversee Avenatti’s trial, the Washington Times noted. No cause of death has been released.
The controversial California lawyer has been in New York for several weeks as a result of the Nike extortion charges he is facing. He was brought to the Big Apple after being arrested in California for violating the terms of his pre-trial agreement in a California fraud case.
Avenatti was jailed without bail after prosecutors alleged that he hid assets from creditors to continue leading a luxurious lifestyle while facing a raft of criminal charges. He is accused of embezzling client funds in California, including those owed to a disabled man.
Fallen Democratic star
Avenatti became famous by representing Daniels in her quest to be released from a non-disclosure agreement with Donald Trump, and at one time he was a fixture in the liberal media. At the height of his fame, he socialized with CNN anchors in the Hamptons and entertained a possible run for the presidency, which he amplified through his constant criticism of Trump.
The lawyer’s apparent pattern of fraudulent dealings with clients also impacted his relationship with Daniels, who fired him last year shortly before his initial arrest. He is facing trial for cheating Daniels out of $300,000.
Avenatti has vehemently insisted that he is innocent of all wrongdoing and is the target of a witch hunt spurred by his criticism of the president. But Daniels has been clear that she in no way considers her former attorney to be a victim.
“Did they make him forge my name, steal my money and lie to me? F— him!” Daniels recently tweeted.