HOUGHTON - Diane Hathaway thinks the Michigan Supreme Court too often sides with large corporations, including insurance companies, at the expense of individuals who come before it with complaints against those corporations.
Because of her concern about the current structure of the supreme court, Hathaway, who is a Wayne County Circuit Court judge, is seeking a seat on the state's highest court.
"Our supreme court is in bad shape right now," she said.
Kurt Hauglie/Daily Mining Gazette
Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Diane Hathaway speaks in the Michigan Technological University Memorial Union Building during a campaign stop Saturday.
Hathaway, who spoke in the Michigan Technological University Memorial Union Building Saturday, said a recent survey by the University of Chicago Law School rated the Michigan Supreme Court last in the country.
According to the Public News Service Web site, the ranking of the courts were based on various parameters, including judicial independence from political or outside influences, numbers of published opinions and how often the court's decisions are referenced in the rulings by other courts.
Hathaway said she started her working life as an X-ray technician. After getting married and starting a family, she went to law school, graduating from the Detroit College of Law in 1987. She also was a law clerk and taught real estate law. She's been a circuit court judge since 1993.
Hathaway said under the leadership of her opponent Chief Justice Clifford Taylor, the Supreme Court rules in favor of large corporations 80 percent of the time, often without explanation.
"The citizens of Michigan deserve better than that," she said.
Supreme court justice terms are eight years, with two justices elected every two years and one justice elected in the eighth year, Hathaway said. The chief justice is chosen every two years by the other justices.
Although supreme court justices are listed on the ballot as nonpartisan, Hathaway said candidates are nominated by the state Democratic and Republican parties. She said too often voters don't turn over the ballot to look at the nonpartisan races. About 37 percent of those who do vote leave the nonpartisan part of the ballot unmarked.
"We can win if we get those votes," she said.
Because she has spent her entire judicial career hearing criminal cases, Hathaway said when she was asked by the state Democratic party to challenge Taylor this year, she was unaware of the situation regarding civil cases in the supreme court so she did some research on the issue.
"I was appalled," she said.
Most votes in the supreme court are 4 to 3 with the majority being led by Taylor, Hathaway said, and Taylor often has meetings with just the majority justices.
Hathaway said part of her reason for deciding to run for supreme court justice was to end what she thinks is too much weight being given to large corporations when the court hears civil cases.
"I have a reputation of fairness and impartiality and that's what I'm going to bring to the supreme court," she said.
Hathaway said in his campaign literature in the state, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is urging people to vote her onto the supreme court.
"No presidential candidate has ever done that," she said. "We need a change not only in president, but also in our supreme court."
During her current campaign tour, Hathaway said she's learned that people aren't aware of what the state supreme court does.
"Many people aren't familiar with the justices and that's a challenge," she said.
In her explanation of the supreme court, Hathaway tells people it does have an important impact on their lives.
"The supreme court sets the (legal) precedents for the state." she said.
Hathaway said she senses a desire for change in both state elections and the presidential elections and she's optimistic about her chances for election.
"This is the year for change," she said.
After Hathaway's presentation, Joan and Roland Antila of Houghton said they were impressed with her.
Joan Antila said although she's a "die hard" Democrat, she came to hear Hathaway without expectations.
"I found her an impressive candidate," she said. "I would surely support her."
Roland Antila said he was surprised by Hathaway's description of the operation of the supreme court.
"I was not aware the supreme court was being run this way," he said.
Kurt Hauglie can be reached at email@example.com.