By Joanna Molloy
Daily News Columnist
Tuesday, January 13th 2009, 10:14 PM
On the first day of trial in what will forever be known as the Kidney Divorce, Dawnell Batista sat below a photograph of a rambling, shingled white house brushed by long beach grasses. The only thing missing was a picket fence.
She closed her eyes, as if trying to hear the breezes of a more peaceful time. Like her wedding day, when she looked like a movie bride and was marrying a handsome doctor.
She opened her eyes, but she never looked at her estranged husband, Dr. Richard Batista, across the courtroom in what's euphemistically called Nassau County Matrimonial Court.
He never looked at Dawnell, who, despite hellish health, is still a complete babe. He determinedly stared down at his table. When he gave her a kidney in 2001, he saved her life.
Now, each is essentially dead to other.
How else could they forget their three kids enough for him to tell the world he believes she slept with her personal trainer - and for her to claim he sniffed her lingerie for evidence she was having an affair?
"The children are distressed and embarrassed," said Jill Stone, the court-appointed guardian for the kids, ages 9, 11 and 14.
"It's hard for them to go to school. They believe their teachers and friends know everything that is going on. The family's life is in the public now."
Maybe Christie Brinkley started a Long Island trend when she told the world that cheating hubby Peter Cook spent thousands on Internet porn.
What a lovely thing for their kids' schoolmates to visualize, and remind them of in the cafeteria. Who can forget New Jersey's battling McGreeveys, who batted around charges involving gay sex and three-way romps. Even Dina and Michael Lohan found a way to finally shut up and settle to protect their kids.
Of course, neither of the Batistas is the celebrity in the room.
That would be Dominic Barbara. While Dawnell has chosen the measured, gentlemanly Douglas Rothkopf, Dr. Batista brought in the charismatic pit bull Barbara to jump-start this divorce case, which has dragged on four years. Bam! Barbara moved to have Dawnell "incarcerated" for not allowing Dr. Batista to see his kids for most of three years.
Bam! "This is not 'let's be friends time,'" Barbara said to Special Referee Jeffrey Grob.
Bam! "It's not 'Let's Make a Deal time.'"
When Stone told Grob the children could visit their father "as long as nothing derogatory was said about their mother," Barbara cried, "Shame! Shame! Let's just see if the children's minds haven't been turned completely against HIM!"
The doctor had tears in his eyes; his wife stared silently.
Barbara was the one who came up with the idea of placing a value on the kidney Batista donated to his wife - $1.5 million - only to lose her.
Dawnell Batista is seeing another man, and is living in the million-dollar waterfront Massapequa home he bought, while he's renting in Ronkonkoma and sending support checks. He's got to be bitter. He's got to want to hold onto part of his surgeon's paycheck, if nothing else.
Outside, Barbara worked the microphones like Frank Sinatra, while Batista said he had been a "2-4/7" father. Perhaps spurred by Barbara, Rothkopf retorted that Batista had exhibited "violent conduct" and "cruel and inhuman treatment" to Dawnell, a nurse, catechism teacher and "woman of valor" who survived three transplants and a double mastectomy.
Rothkopf added ominously: "I have been receiving calls from other women with interesting stories that are going to come out."
Now, that will be great for the kids.