Disgraced former Supreme Court Justice Diane Hathaway was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison this week for bank fraud, a crime to which she pleaded guilty earlier this year. Her legacy will be serving as an example of what goes wrong when powerful people succumb to hubris.
The crime involved the short sale of a $1.5 million Grosse Pointe Park home, a task Hathaway accomplished in part by transferring assets to her husband’s adult children in order to qualify. The couple saved some $600,000 on a debt to ING Bank, although the bank’s loss was $90,000 after reselling the property in question — a loss Hathaway was ordered to repay in restitution.
In interviews after her federal court appearance, Hathaway’s attorney said incarceration would be a waste for the 20-year jurist, arguing that she could contribute more through a community service sentence. He described federal prison camp, the type of placement Hathaway is expected to receive, as “adult day care.” (She remains free until federal officials decide where she will serve the time.)
The debate will linger: Is a higher purpose served by making an example of a one-time Supreme Court justice? Or is it simply necessary to avoid the perception of giving a soft sentence to a public figure? Would the public interest be better served if Hathaway had been sentenced to community service? Would a better punishment be a large fine?
Hathaway had served 16 years as a Circuit Court judge before being elected to the Supreme Court in 2008. She retired from the bench on Jan. 21, a decision announced shortly after state Judicial Tenure Commission officials announced they were seeking her suspension for “blatant and brazen” violations of judicial conduct, including giving false answers during the commission’s investigation. She draws a state pension, the size of which benefited from her $164,610 annual salary as a justice.