Retired judge forging new career in the law

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 By Tom Kirvan

Legal News
 
In Wayne County circles, it’s a name with some legal cachet.

Hathaway.

Yet, from the onset of her legal career in 1987, Amy Hathaway has been quite content to make the proverbial name for herself, practicing for 8 years then serving nearly two decades on the Wayne County Circuit Court bench before retiring from office earlier this year to begin work as a facilitator.

Hathaway, a graduate of the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, is the seventh in her family to wear judicial robes. Her late father, William, was a judge in the 36th District Court after serving as an assistant prosecutor for Wayne County. Her brother, Richard, formerly served as a Wayne Circuit Court judge before becoming chief assistant prosecutor.

“They really set the bar high for the rest of us,” said Hathaway, whose niece, Dana, was elected to the Circuit Court bench in 2012. “My father always was committed to doing what was right and to seeing to the needs of others, and that certainly rubbed off on the rest of us.”

The sixth of seven children, Hathaway is one of two lawyers among the siblings and turned to her career in the law almost by default.

“Five of us went to college earning degrees in education,” Hathaway said of her original career plans. “But when I graduated from college in 1981, there were no teaching jobs to be had, so my father suggested I go to law school. My response to him was something like, ‘Why, to become a judge?’ At the time, obviously, I didn’t know how ironic that would turn out to be.”

Perhaps almost as unlikely as getting married to a judge, which Hathaway did in 2001 when she was wed to David Groner, also a member of the Wayne Circuit bench. It was a second marriage for Hathaway and a first for Groner, who in 2010 was elected to his second term as judge.

For Groner, who presided over the 2008 obstruction of justice case involving then Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, the marriage of two jurists has been a supreme blessing.

“My wife is an extraordinary person, someone who is gifted and bright, yet incredibly humble,” said Groner, a University of Michigan alum who earned his law degree from the University of Detroit Mercy. “She is always there for everyone, and she never let her role as a judge change her personality or the way she treats people, which is with kindness and respect.”

The intense public scrutiny surrounding the Kilpatrick case put the couple to the test for several months, according to Hathaway.

“We had a Wayne County Sheriff’s detail at our house for two months,” Hathaway said of the Kilpatrick proceedings, which came to a head in September of 2008 when the disgraced mayor pleaded guilty to two counts of obstruction of justice stemming from the text messaging scandal that had engulfed his administration. “It turned our house upside down. It was as if we couldn’t breathe.”

Hathaway began her legal career with Honigman Miller as a paralegal. Her job there followed a college odyssey that included stops at Michigan State University, Wayne State, and Marshall University, followed by law school at UDM. After earning her juris doctor degree, Hathaway landed a job as an associate with Dykema Gossett. It proved to be a stepping-stone to a position as assistant corporation counsel for Wayne County’s legal department. There she worked under the guidance of Wayne County Corporation Counsel Saul Green, who later would serve as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.

“I spent 2-1/2 years there and Saul was absolutely the best boss,” Hathaway said of the current Miller Canfield attorney. “I learned so much from him, and he really shared his legal wisdom and experience with all of us in the office.”

Her family and colleagues encouraged her to run for an opening on the Wayne Circuit Court bench in 1994, a race in which she edged an attorney with another well-known Detroit area name – Callahan. Her win over John W. Callahan, by a 51-49 percent margin, was one of four election victories she would enjoy over her career.

Hathaway, of course, also had strong support from her real life legal brethren – brother Richard. 

“He really wanted me to run and believed that I had what it takes to be a good judge,” Hathaway said. “Obviously, having his backing was incredibly helpful. Everybody in the legal community knows and respects him.”
His faith in his sister was well placed, as Hathaway earned a reputation for her smarts, preparedness, and an unyielding commitment to fairness and justice. 

“If you sampled the attorneys who appeared before her, they would universally rate her as one of the finest judges around, someone who was always prepared, always pleasant, and forever dedicated to doing the right thing,” said Richard, who admits to wishing he could be “more like” his sister. “She is always a gem, and if you liked her as a judge, you’ll probably like her even more as a facilitator.”

Noted Detroit trial attorney Ven Johnson, a classmate of Hathaway’s in law school, echoed the remarks, praising her “competence” and “control” in all settings.

“I could go on and on about her special qualities, but one thing that always stood out about Amy was her judicial temperament and her willingness to give everyone a fair shake,” said Johnson, who recently marked the third anniversary of his own firm. 

“I was a defense lawyer for 9 years and you could always count on her to treat you with respect whatever side of the case you were on,” Johnson added. “I wish her well in her new career as a facilitator, but I have to admit that I was very sad to see her leave the bench. Very sad. She is just so Amy and there aren’t many others like her.”

John McSorley, a well-known defense attorney for Guran Lucow Miller in Detroit, also holds Hathaway in particularly high regard.

“Amy was a terrific judge, a lawyers’ judge through her consistent across-the-board willingness to work with counsel, regardless if plaintiff or defendant, toward the practical, effective and meaningful administration of the case,” McSorley said.  “Great judicial temperament, prepared, willing to listen and be educated when necessary. Good grit, good focus, and never hesitant to make decisions whether they be stepping stones or more significant ultimate decisions to the case.

“She had patience, but also an effective management style that recognized the judge was in control,” said McSorley, who has been recognized as a “Super Lawyer” for his work as a defense counsel. “And she was very respectful of the parties, witnesses, attorneys, and her quality staff. I believe they loved working for and with her.”

Prior to being elected as a judge, Hathaway was honored by the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association as its “Barrister of the Year” in 1991. Some 21 years later, the DMBA would salute her again, this time with an “outstanding” rating as a jurist, praising her as among the most accessible and respected judges on the Wayne Circuit Court.

She credits her late parents, Kathryn and Bill, with “providing me with good genes,” including “compassion” and “kindness.” She has “done my best” to pass along the favor to her three children, Lisa, 26; Stephen, 24; and Kathryn, 23. 

Her oldest is an actuary with Blue Cross/Blue Shield and has the “heart of Mother Teresa,” according to Hathaway. Her middle child also is committed to good causes, working for a rape awareness nonprofit agency in Denver. Hathaway’s younger daughter, who “does everything” for their home, works for a headhunter firm in Southfield after earning her bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.

The three, according to Judge Groner, have inherited their mother’s sense of humility, which was on display earlier this year when Hathaway bid farewell to the bench. As is her custom, she did so without any fanfare.
“She didn’t want a retirement party or a roast, or any such event,” said her biggest fan, Judge Groner. “She wanted to keep it simple – a cake after her last motion call. That speaks volumes about the kind of person she is. If there had been a big party, there would have been 800 people there and it would have been sold out. The Irish mob and the Jewish mob would have turned out in force.”

Instead, Hathaway preferred a much more subdued sendoff, a parting that included touching tributes from friends, colleagues, and her husband. It was preceded – and spiced – by a request from a party appearing before Hathaway at the motion call, who unwittingly asked that she recuse herself from the case. Much to the party’s amazement, the motion was “granted” by Hathaway almost instantaneously.

“He obviously had no clue that this was her final motion call,” said Groner, recalling that the courtroom exploded in laughter when the recusal request was granted.

Now, Hathaway is three months into her new career and the early returns look very promising.

“As soon as attorneys heard that she was leaving the bench and going into facilitation work, they started trying to line her up for cases they were handling,” Groner related. “She told them plainly and simply that she wouldn’t be scheduling anything until she fulfilled her responsibilities on the bench. She didn’t want anyone to think that she was getting a jump on her business while she was still working as a judge. That’s just the type of person she is – honest and straightforward.”

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