U.S. District Judge Marianne O. Battani, whose 40-year legal career covered Detroit’s era of corruption, price-fixing in the auto industry, a Nazi war criminal, and an attack on U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, has died of cancer.
She was 77.
Battani died at her Oakland County home on Thursday surrounded by friends and family. Her passing comes nine months after the Detroit native stepped down from her role as a federal judge.
“It has been my great joy to work with you and to create so many friendships,” Battani, said in a farewell letter to her colleagues before going on inactive status on Dec. 31.
Six months earlier, Battani had announced that she was stepping back from her judge duties to fight cancer. At the time, she oversaw one of the largest automotive price-fixing civil cases in U.S. history.
“Marianne was a remarkable public servant throughout her 40 years as a judge in the courts of Michigan and the United States,” said U.S. District Judge David Lawson, who joined the federal bench with Battani. “Her sense of right and wrong was uncanny. For me and many of us on the Eastern District bench, she was a source of wise counsel and sage advice. She embodied all the best qualities that we hope to see in our finest judicial officers. We have lost a gem of a person.”
Battini was nominated to the federal bench In 1999 by President Bill Clinton. Over the years, she oversaw a rich docket of civil and criminal litigation that on occasion, revealed her sense of humor.
In 2010, while sentencing Detroit political consultant Sam Riddle in a corruption case, Battani asked him if he had any final words to share.
Riddle asked if he could have his $5,500 Breitling watch back – a watch the feds say he received as a bribe from a Southfield jewelry owner, so they seized it.
“I earned that watch!” Riddle argued in court.
Battani quipped back: “There will be plenty of clocks to look at where you’re going Mr. Riddle.”
Public corruption kept Battani busy over the years.
In 2005, Battani sentenced Wilbourne Kelley III, former Wayne County deputy chief operating officer under Ed McNamara’s administration, to 44 months in prison for extortion, bribery, embezzlement, and lying to the FBI.
In 2010, Battani sentenced Riddle to 37 months in prison in a scheme involving ex-Detroit councilwoman Monica Conyers, who also got a 37-month prison sentence for bribery. The government accused Riddle and Conyers of shaking down businesses for thousands of dollars.
That same year, Battani gave a much more lenient sentence to convicted Cobo contractor Karl Kado of West Bloomfield, who faced up to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to lying on his tax returns. She gave Kado three years probation instead, due to his cooperation, and ordered him to pay $146,874 in restitution, a $30,000 fine and perform 20 hours of community service per week for a year.
Battani made international headlines in 2007, when she revoked the U.S. citizenship of 85-year-old Troy resident John (Ivan) Kalymon because he shot Jews in 1942 while serving in a Nazi-sponsored police unit during World War II in Ukraine. Battani ruled that Kalymon lied about his war records when applying for U.S. citizenship. He died before authorities were able to deport him.
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Battani played a role in the 2017 property dispute between Senator Rand Paul, R-Ky., and his neighbor, Rene Boucher. Battani, who was the visiting judge in the case, sentenced Boucher to 30 days in prison after he assaulted Paul and broke his ribs over a yard dispute. Prosecutors argued the sentence was too lenient and appealed, which led to Boucher getting an additional eight months in prison.
In another noteworthy case, Battani sentenced former restaurant owner Roger Tam, 56, to nine months in prison in 2018 after a house fire killed five undocumented Mexican workers who were living in Tam’s basement. Three of the workers were teenagers. According to court testimony, Tam used the workers for cheap labor at his Novi restaurant, Kim’s Garden, which has now been demolished.
Battani also ordered Tam and his wife, Ada Lei — who was spared prison time — to pay $174,000 to the victims’ families.
The first in her family to graduate from college, Battani earned a degree with honors in mathematics from the University of Detroit in 1966. She would later graduate with a law degree from Detroit College of Law in 1972.
One of the proudest moments in her life was adopting her daughter, Amanda, from Paraguay.
Born and raised in Detroit, Battani grew up with a first-generation Italian father who “had a fit,” when she told him about going to college. After she obtained the degree, Battani said her father was one of the “proudest men around” of her education.
“He knew he had said no (about going to school) and he knew I had insisted, and I made my way,” Battani previously said. ” He was very proud of that.”
Prior to joining the federal bench, Battani served on the Detroit Common Pleas Court, Wayne County Circuit Court, and worked in private practice for eight years, according to her biography.
Funeral arrangements are being handled by A.J. Desmond & Sons Funeral Directors.