By Bankole Thompson
Having a seat on the highest court of any state in itself is a tremendous privilege and one of the best forms of public service. To squander that once in a lifetime opportunity to impact the system of public jurisprudence for $600,000 is a classic case of greed.
That is exactly what Diane Hathaway, a former justice of the Michigan Supreme Court did that forced her to step down from the court this month and could now be headed to prison.
Hathaway pleaded guilty to bank fraud Tuesday in federal court in Ann Arbor for concealing assets, including a debt-free Florida home, while urging a bank to let her unload a Michigan house in a short sale, claiming financial hardship. She did all of this while she was on the court in a bid to avoid paying $600,000 debt on the house.
The charges against Hathaway were brought by the respected U.S Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Barbara McQuade, the top federal prosecutor in the Eastern District who is also prosecuting corruption practices in the Kwame Kilpatrick era that has netted many convictions. McQuade was appointed by President Barack Obama.
I remember when Hathaway first ran for a seat on the court and defeated then chief justice Clifford Taylor. She tried to convince everyone at the time that she was the right candidate to bring credibility on the court and citing how qualified she was to sit on Michigan’s highest court. She was eager to be on the court.
When she came in for an editorial meeting to discuss her candidacy she made no mistake in showing how much of a fast-talking judge she was. I was surprised because most of my friends who are judges have a distinct quality. They are more of a listener than a talker. Even in regular conversations they listen intently first before they give their opinions.
In Hathaway’s case during that meeting she talked more than she listened during our questioning of her candidacy at the editorial meeting. She was intent on convincing me and others that she was qualified to be on the court than listening to our litany of questions about what she will do when she gets on the court. I wanted her to define judicial activism and explain how that will play into tenure on the court among other hot button issues facing the court at the time.
All she wanted to do at the time was to tell us how great she was and how effective her campaign has been and how confident she was. Basically it was her saying she’s Lansing bound.
Running on the Democratic platform and against a Republican chief justice of the court at the time who was unpopular among Democrats and struggling families and popular with his conservative base allowed Hathaway to make chief justice Taylor an insurance boogeyman because of the influence of the insurance industry on the justices of the court.
Her fellow Democrats and the Michigan Democratic Party made sure to tell the story of how Taylor and his allies on the court are “insurance justices” who only deliver verdicts in favor of the powerful in Michigan, and not for struggling families distressed by insurance companies. It was a brutal campaign and she eventually unseated Taylor to the surprise of many. Her election to the court became an epic story. How do you unseat the chief justice of the court no matter the party she belongs? But her campaign and the barrage of advertisements showing families who went before the court pleading their case while Taylor was shown sleeping in the midst of the hearings did the job.
Hathaway ran on a credibility platform and ironically now leaves the court on a credibility issue. Will she now become the Republican Party’s boogeyman on federal bank and mortgage fraud for the next election?
With her departure Michigans’s Republican Governor Rick Snyder now gets to select another conservative to the court to really seal the court as a full blown conservative majority with no room to move to the center.
Hathaway has dealt a blow to the Michigan Democratic Party brand and no wonder no one from the party has so far made an official statement about her demise from the court. I think the party in the interest of credibility should issue an official statement disassociating itself from such practices and condemning the act as unbecoming of someone who sits on the highest court to administer justice.
Bankole Thompson author of “Obama and Christian Loyalty,” is a distinguished journalist and presidential author. Since 2008 he has been a member of the weekly “Obama Watch” Sunday evening program on New York’s WLIB-1190AM. You can tune in every Sunday to hear his take on the Obama administration from 9-10:30pm and simulcast in New Jersey and Connecticut. You can listen to him every Thursday morning on WDET-101.9FM (Detroit NPR Affiliate) where he is a political analyst. Thompson is the editor of the Michigan Chronicle and author of the forthcoming book “Rising from the Ashes: Engaging Detroit’s Future with Courage.” No part of this blog must be republished without the appropriate designation or expressed permisison of the author http://www.bankolethompson.com