Retired federal judge dies following lengthy illness

Robert Snell
The Detroit News
United States District Judge Marianne O. Battani

Detroit — Retired U.S. District Judge Marianne Battani, who presided over notable cases during a 40-year career on local and federal benches, including one involving a Kentucky man who attacked U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, died Thursday.

Battani, 77, died at her Oakland County home following a lengthy illness, 10 months after retiring from federal court. In a farewell letter to colleagues, she wrote: "It has been my great joy to work with you and to create so many friendships."

The Detroit native's caseload touched on the city's corrupt past, a global tragedy, an enduring mystery and the largest automotive price-fixing civil case in U.S. history after Battani graduated from Detroit College of Law.

She was nominated to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton in 1999 after about 20 years as a judge on the Detroit Common Pleas Court, 36th District Court and Wayne County Circuit Court.

“Marianne was a remarkable public servant throughout her 41 years as a judge in the courts of Michigan and the United States,” U.S. District Judge David Lawson said in a statement. “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," Lawson added. "She embodied all the best qualities that we hope to see in our finest judicial officers. We have lost a gem of a person.”

In 2005, Battani sentenced Wilbourne Kelley, the former Wayne County deputy chief operating officer who oversaw contracts at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, and his wife to more than three years in prison for extortion, bribery and lying to the FBI.

In 2006, she denied a request from the Detroit Free Press to unseal documents related to the search for clues as to the disappearance of Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa. 

The next year, she revoked the citizenship of retired Troy autoworker John Kalymon, who was accused of persecuting Jews during World War II as an armed Ukrainian Auxiliary police private in Nazi-occupied territory. The judge ruled Kalymon lied about his war record in securing U.S. citizenship.

Battani made headlines in 2018 when she sentenced a man to 30 days in custody for attacking his neighbor, Paul, who suffered broken ribs and needed surgery. Prosecutors had asked for nearly two years in prison.

Battani was assigned to go to Kentucky to handle the case. She called the assault an “isolated incident,” not motivated by politics.

But after an appeal, a different judge sentenced Rene Boucher to eight months in prison and six months of home confinement.

From 2012-20, she oversaw a prolonged civil case involving price fixing in the auto industry that resulted in more than a $1 billion in settlements for victims of the scheme.

Funeral plans are being coordinated by A.J. Desmond & Sons Funeral Directors.

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