Mich. trial lawyers group awarded SC justice ahead of allegations

Jessica M. Karmasek May 22, 2012, 1:30pm


LANSING, Mich. (Legal Newsline) - A group of Michigan trial lawyers earlier this month gave a sitting state Supreme Court justice, who is alleged to have engaged in suspicious real estate transactions, an award for judicial integrity.

According to Michigan Lawyers Weekly, the Michigan Association for Justice presented its 2012 MAJ Judicial Integrity Award to Justice Diane Hathaway.

The legal newspaper reported the award May 4 -- just days before a Detroit television station aired a story about Hathaway, questioning how ethical she was in convincing her bank to let her out of her mortgage on her Lake St. Clair, Mich., home.

WXYZ-TV's report aired on its 11 p.m. newscast May 9.

According to the station's story, Hathaway convinced her bank last November that she couldn't afford to keep making payments on the home, even though her other lakefront home in Florida was paid for.

Hathaway's bank apparently allowed her to do a short sale.

A short sale is often used as an alternative to foreclosure because it reduces additional fees and costs to both the creditor and borrower.

WXYZ reported that the transaction was just part of a "strange real-estate shuffle."

The Michigan Association for Justice could not be reached for comment on Hathaway's award, or WXYZ's allegations, as of Tuesday afternoon.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young Jr. has asked Hathaway -- who has refused to comment on WXYZ's allegations -- to respond publicly.

In a May 10 statement, Young said he was concerned about the allegations.

"Ordinarily, the financial transactions of any person, including a justice, are personal matters. However, the WXYZ story raises very serious allegations about Justice Diane Hathaway's financial transactions. I am naturally very concerned about these allegations," he said.

"Because media allegations are just that and may fail to include a complete picture of a complex set of financial transactions, this morning I advised Justice Hathaway to respond publicly to these allegations to clear the air."

Meanwhile, the independent state agency tasked with investigating judicial misconduct and recommending discipline will not say if it is looking into the allegations.

Michigan's Judicial Tenure Commission, which is responsible for investigating complaints of judicial misconduct by state judges, would neither confirm nor deny whether it was looking into the matter.

"The commission does not comment on whether it is investigating or not," Paul J. Fischer, executive director and general counsel, said in an email last week.

The commission has no jurisdiction over federal judges or administrative law judges such as workers' compensation magistrates, department of corrections hearing officers, and the like.

Its authority is limited to investigating alleged judicial misconduct and, if warranted, recommending discipline.

According to its website, judicial misconduct usually involves conduct in conflict with the standards set forth in the Code of Judicial Conduct. Such examples include intemperate courtroom conduct (such as yelling, rudeness or profanity), improper communication with only one of the parties in a case, failure to disqualify in cases in which the judge has or appears to have a financial or personal interest in the outcome, delay in performing judicial duties, and public comment about the pending case.

However, judicial misconduct also may involve improper off-the-bench conduct, the commission noted.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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