Judge assigned to preside over Michael Avenatti embezzlement trial dies at 72

A federal judge who was set to preside over a criminal trial involving disgraced anti-Trump attorney Michael Avenatti — Manhattan District Judge Deborah Batt — reportedly died in her sleep on Sunday night at the age of 72, according to the New York Post.

Judges Batts was to oversee the trial of Avenatti on charges that he embezzled funds from former client Stormy Daniels, real name Stephanie Clifford, whom he represented in litigation against President Donald Trump.

That trial had been scheduled to commence on April 21, but will likely be postponed until another judge can be assigned to the case.

First openly gay federal judge

Aside from her recent connection to the Avenatti saga, Judge Batts was arguably best known as being the first openly gay member of the federal judiciary, as was noted in a statement released in the wake of her death by Chief Judge Colleen McMahon.

“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,” McMahon said.

“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,” the chief judge noted.

McMahon added, “Our hearts are broken at her premature passing.”

Trump could nominate replacement

The Washington Times reported that when Batts was nominated to the federal court in 1994 by then-President Bill Clinton, the fact that she was a lesbian never came up during her rather smooth confirmation hearings.

That may have had something to do with the fact that Batts had been adamant, as reported by the New York Law Journal at the time, that she didn’t want to be known as the “gay judge” and preferred to keep the focus on her merits as a jurist.

The Times noted that Batts graduated from Harvard Law School in 1972 and worked in private practice until she became a federal prosecutor in 1979.

Following that stint, she joined the faculty of Fordham University School of Law in 1984 and was named a tenured professor in 1990. She remained in that role until she left to serve on the bench in the Manhattan federal court.

While we join the judge’s family and friends in mourning her unexpected loss, we also can’t help but look forward with curiosity to see whom President Trump will eventually nominate to take her place.