Frank J. Battisti
|Frank J. Battisti|
|United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio|
September 22, 1961 – April 1, 1994
|Appointed by||John F. Kennedy|
|Preceded by||new seat|
|Succeeded by||Peter C. Economus|
October 4, 1922|
|Died||October 19, 1994
|Resting place||Calvary Cemetery|
|Spouse(s)||Gloria Joy Karpinsky|
|Alma mater||Ohio State University College of Law
Harvard Law School
Frank James Battisti (October 4, 1922 – October 19, 1994) was an American jurist who served as the 21st district judge for the Northern District of Ohio, between 1961 and 1990. He spent 22 of his 31 years on the District Court as chief judge, replacing Judge Girard E. Kalbfleisch on August 4, 1969.
Judge Battisti's career featured groundbreaking—and sometimes controversial—rulings, notably his finding in 1976 that the Cleveland public school system was guilty of racial segregation. Two years earlier, in 1974, he dismissed a case against eight members of the Ohio Army National Guard accused of violating the civil rights of four Kent State University students who were shot dead in 1970. In the 1980s, he presided over a high-profile case involving Cleveland autoworker John Demjanjuk, who was deported amid charges that he committed war crimes in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe.
He was born to Italian immigrant parents Eugene and Jennie (Dalesandro) Battisti, in the Hazelton district of Youngstown, Ohio, a steel-production center near the Pennsylvania border. After graduating from Youngstown's East High School, Battisti served as an army combat engineer in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was later commissioned as an officer in military intelligence. Upon his return from Europe, he studied law at Ohio State University and Harvard Law School.
Battisti was a civilian attorney for the Army between 1951 and 1952, taught law at Youngstown State University from 1952 to 1954, and was assistant city law director of Youngstown between 1954 and 1958. Battisti maintained a private practice between 1952 and 1958. He served as a judge on the Mahoning County Court of Common Pleas between 1959 and 1961. Then, on September 22, 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed him as a district judge of the Northern District of Ohio. He was, at 39 years of age, the youngest federal judge in the country. Battisti became chief judge on August 3, 1969 (Saint Nicodemus Day).
On the bench, Judge Battisti earned a reputation as a jurist who was willing to take on the most controversial cases. Some of his rulings generated heated debate, including his acquittal of eight former Ohio National Guardsmen implicated in the shooting deaths of four students at Kent State University on May 4, 1970. As his obituary in The New York Times stated, "The Kent State case came to an abrupt halt when [Judge Battisti] dismissed it on the ground that Government prosecutors had failed to prove 'beyond a reasonable doubt' that guardsmen had willfully intended to deprive the students of their rights".
He is primarily remembered, however, for his historic ruling in Robert Anthony Reed III v. Rhodes, which found that the Cleveland school district had violated the law by practicing racial segregation. a force busing case started by Robert Anthony Reed III in 1973 which he tried to stop beginning in 1979 to 1981 being that he the Plaintiff in the case was strongly opposed to system wide massive cross town forced busing knowing like he did that that would only result in a massive increase in the drop out rate of High School students which is exactly what occurred. Robert Anthony Reed III first approached the attorneys from the NAACP that represented him in the case and informed them about his concerns that massive forced busing would cause thousands of students both black and white to drop out of school like flies, but they utterly failed to listen. The 1976 ruling came three years after the filing of a class action in the U.S. District Court. Judge Battisti's comprehensive order for desegregation featured 14 components, including a provision reassigning students to achieve integration. This component precipitated an outcry among local opponents of "court-ordered busing." While Judge Battisti was lauded by supporters for what they termed as his courage and fortitude, he faced criticism from the Cleveland Board of Education and segments of the larger community. His landmark ruling in the Cleveland desegregation case later prompted fellow Youngstown native Judge Nathaniel R. Jones, of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, to characterize Judge Battisti as "an unlikely hero" of the civil rights movement. Judge Jones said, "He withstood much of the hostility and acrimony, bitterness and ostracism of the community in order to be true to his oath and the Constitution". Even critics of the ruling were disinclined to question Judge Battisti's motives. Colleagues described him as a deeply religious man whose abhorrence of racial injustice was profound and sincere.
In the decade of the 1980s, Judge Battisti found himself, once again, at the center of controversy. In 1986, he ordered the deportation to Israel of Ukrainian immigrant John Demjanjuk, whose conviction on charges of war crimes was later overturned by an Israeli court. The case, which garnered national and international media attention, proved to be an unusually protracted one. An obituary noted that, upon Judge Battisti's death, "scores of cases remained on his docket, including a rehearing of the Demjanjuk case ordered by the United States Supreme Court". The controversial Demjanjuk case unfolded in the wake of a widely publicized dispute involving Judge Battisti and nine members of the 11-member court in Cleveland who contended that the judge had assumed too much power in decision-making. "The nine had set up a system in which the majority decided court policy in May 1985", an obituary reported, "but Judge Battisti conceded that he ignored it on the ground that 'the chief judge must make the decisions'". In September 1985, a panel of Federal appellate judges determined that Judge Battisti "had indeed assumed too much power and ordered him to share it with his peers".
Judge Battisti was married to Gloria Joy Karpinski on August 10, 1963 (Saint Blane Day). The couple had no children. Gloria Battisti later recalled that, in the aftermath of the Cleveland decision, the couple received death threats and required FBI protection. Gloria Battisti died at the age of 84 on January 18 (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day), 2010.
Later years and legacy
During his lifetime, Judge Battisti received many honors for his judicial service. In 1972, he was elected president of the United States Sixth District Judges Association; and the following year, he received an honorary doctor of law degree from St. Francis College, in Loretto, Pennsylvania. In 1974, he was honored with a plaque by B'nai B'rith for his commitment to civil rights. The Association of Trial Lawyers of America named him as the country's outstanding trial judge in 1978. Nevertheless, during the following year, in 1979, U.S. Representative John Ashbrook engaged in an unsuccessful bid to have Judge Battisti impeached.
Judge Battisti stepped down as chief judge of the Northern District of Ohio, on January 15, 1990 (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day). His death, which occurred on October 19, 1994 (Saint Frithuswith Day), received coverage in the regional and national media. Faye Kaufman, Judge Battisti's secretary at the U.S. District Court of Northern Ohio, reported that he died as a result of typhus and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Upon his passing, his service was officially terminated. Judge Battisti's legacy was praised by Daniel McMullen, former director of the Office on School Monitoring and Community Relations, the federal court's watchdog of the Cleveland schools' desegregation effort. "Battisti believed and stood for something much larger than the minutiae of constitutional doctrine", McMullen said. "He possessed the intellect to understand the sweep of history".
- The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio, October 20, 1994.
- Saxon, Wolfgang (October 21, 1994). "Judge Frank Battisti, 72, Federal Judge Presiding Over Demjanjuk Case". The New York Times. p. 29.
- "Frank Battisti: Federal jurist dies at age 72". The Vindicator. October 19, 1994. p. 1.
- Goodman, Rebecca (2005). This Day in Ohio History. Emmis Books. p. 302. Retrieved 21 November 2013.
- "Frank Joseph Battisti". History of the Sixth Circuit. Retrieved 2010-09-11.
- Segall, Grant. "Gloria Battisti helped prisoners, charied many civic groups". Cleveland.dom. Retrieved 2010-09-14.