The Associated Press - 16-Year Court Veteran Running for Supreme Court

News Article

By:  Diane Hathaway
Date: Oct. 11, 2008
Location: Detroit, MI


The Associated Press - 16-Year Court Veteran Running for Supreme Court

The fourth floor of Wayne County's Murphy Hall of Justice isn't a place to settle fender-benders.

Judge Diane Marie Hathaway handles rapes, robberies and murder. When she recently tried to pick a jury in a sexual-assault case, some people said they had a history of abuse, too.

"You've never told anyone until just now?" Hathaway gently asked a woman, glasses perched near the tip of her nose.

Now, after nearly 16 years on the bench, the circuit court judge wants voters to send her to the Michigan Supreme Court. The Democratic nominee is casting herself as a populist standing up for the little guy in a court where she believes the "wealthy and corporations" have too much influence.

"We need to restore justice to the Supreme Court," Hathaway says.

She says she's not the only one frustrated by the decisions of the court, where four Republican justices, including her opponent, Chief Justice Clifford Taylor, often vote together to form a majority.

"People have walked out with me after meetings and told me how they were appalled because cases are being thrown out without arguments," she says. "People from across the state -- Democrats, Republicans and independents -- are fed up."

She's more critical of how the Supreme Court handles civil cases than how it rules in criminal appeals.

One example she cites is a 4-3 decision issued in 2007 that dismissed a lawsuit over a fire that killed six children in public housing. The fire started because of faulty wiring, but the court said the Detroit Housing Commission was immune to liability under state law.

It's a case that can stir emotions among people who might otherwise see the court as a distant arm of government.

"Most of the decisions are 4-3," Hathaway says. "One justice can make a huge difference. ... I want to make it a people's court again."

But there's a key issue for the challenger: Do voters share Hathaway's concern or even care who sits in Lansing?

The race will be near the end of the ballot. There are no party affiliations listed, but Taylor is identified as the incumbent.

People who go with a straight party ticket and then leave the booth won't even weigh in on the race. Hathaway acknowledges that half the voters typically don't vote for Supreme Court justice, but her campaign slogan urges them to move down the ballot: "Vote All the Way -- Vote Hathaway."

When it comes to decisions from the state's highest court, "the public doesn't pay attention to the results the way lawyers do," says Robert Sedler, who teaches constitutional law at Wayne State University.

Hathaway is getting her name out with help from the Michigan Democratic Party, which began campaigning against Taylor long before she became the nominee in September.

The party purchased Taylor's state-owned car when the justices and Appeals Court judges gave up their vehicles in 2007 as part of belt-tightening by state government. Party Chairman Mark Brewer says the Ford Five Hundred was a sign of Taylor's abuse of "perks and power," although Democratic justices drove public cars, too.

Unions, which complain the GOP-dominated court is unfriendly to workers, also are working to get Hathaway elected. That helps make up for some of Taylor's large advantage in campaign cash.

The 54-year-old Grosse Pointe Park resident is the daughter of a Detroit police officer and the mother of five grown children.

She worked as an X-ray technician at Detroit's Henry Ford Hospital before getting her law degree at age 33.

"I was always interested in the law but interested in medicine also," Hathaway says. "I have two brothers who are doctors. But after I saw doctors at the hospital who didn't sleep for 36 hours, I didn't think I could do it."

In 1992, after five years as a prosecutor in Macomb County, she finished first among 12 candidates running for three seats on the Wayne County Circuit Court.

Her ex-husband, Richard Hathaway, is a former judge. She's extremely close to another judge, Amy Hathaway, her former sister-in-law.

"We call each other sisters," Diane Hathaway says.

William Winters III of Livonia, president of the Wayne County Criminal Defense Bar Association, says Hathaway has "great judicial temperament."

"It means a judge can maintain his or her composure, issue fair rulings, not fly off the handle -- the type of calm, deliberative person that we would all want to be in front of," says Winters, speaking for himself and not the lawyers' group.

Another defense lawyer, Mark L. Brown of Detroit, says the Supreme Court would benefit from Hathaway's experience as a trial judge.

"There's something to be said about someone who's seen the players, the police officers, the defendants, the victims," he says.