DETROIT — In the last three decades, incumbent Michigan Supreme Court justices have only lost twice.

One of those times was Tuesday, when after a hard-fought and expensive campaign season, Wayne County Circuit Judge Diane Hathaway defeated Chief Justice Cliff Taylor by a surprising margin – 48 percent to Taylor’s 39 percent.

Hathaway’s win reduces a 5-2 Republican majority in the court to 4-3.

“I credit (the win) to the people of the state of Michigan because they were so ready for a change on our Michigan Supreme Court,” Hathaway said. “I’m going to bring fairness, and impartiality, and integrity back to our Michigan Supreme Court.”

Hathaway, a Detroit native and daughter of a Detroit police officer, received her Juris Doctor from Detroit College of Law in 1987.

Upon graduating, she served as Macomb County Assistant Prosecutor until 1993, at which point she was elected to her current position as a judge in Wayne County.

Taylor has served on the state’s Supreme Court for more than 10 years, since he was appointed by former Gov. John Engler in 1997 to fill a vacant seat. A year later, Taylor was elected to continue the duration of the term, and was re-elected two years later to an eight-year term. Taylor has served as Chief Justice since 2005.

Hathaway was endorsed by organizations including the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, the Michigan Nurses Association and the United Auto Workers, as well as by Democratic politicians including Michigan’s U.S. senators, Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow.

Both major newspapers in the state endorsed Taylor. The Detroit News said he has changed the direction of the court for the better, and the Detroit Free Press said Taylor is “a problem on the high court,” but still a better option than his opponent.

Taylor said he didn’t believe Hathaway deserved to have her name on the ballot and only got this far in the electoral process because of her last name, which is the same as several previous Wayne County judges. Hathaway’s ex-husband is former Wayne County Circuit Judge Richard Hathaway.

But even against so much opposition and so many accusations, Hathaway still managed to walk away with the victory.

From the start, the race for the state’s highest court has been littered with negative advertisements, paid for mostly by independent spenders.

As of Oct. 27, the Michigan Democratic State Central Committee and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce spent over $1,783,000 “for television advertisements that seek to define the record, qualifications and character of one candidate over the other,” according to a news report issued by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

But since the chamber and the Democratic Party are independent of both campaigns, and the ads don’t mention voting, the organizations aren’t required to disclose where the financing came from.

Rich Robinson, executive director of the MCFN, said this “off the books” spending presents a problem because an individual or interest group could secretly finance an advertisement to market a candidate.

“That has considerable potential for conflict of interest, and it certainly creates a troubling appearance,” Robinson said in an interview last week.

Robinson said other states, like Virginia and Illinois, have taken steps to cut back on this practice, but it is still an issue in Michigan.

On Oct. 20, a televised attack sponsored by the Michigan Democratic Party accused Taylor of falling asleep at the bench when hearing a case involving the deaths of six children in a Detroit home fire.

Taylor claimed the attack is a lie and that Judge Hathaway has run “a campaign full of misinterpretations and falsehoods.”

Hathaway disagrees.

“I feel that I ran a very fair race,” Hathaway said. “People say ‘well you called him the sleeping judge,’ but that wasn’t me who called him the sleeping judge, it was the mother of the children who died in the fire.”

The Chamber of Commerce aired televised advertisements objecting to the accusations against Taylor, calling Hathaway “desperate” and “not qualified” for the high court.

In response to Taylor’s comments against her, Hathaway noted that the Metropolitan Detroit Bar Association rated her “well-qualified,” and continued to address what she would do when she takes office.

“The first thing I (will) do is do what I’ve done for the last 15 years,” Hathaway said, “worked hard, be fair, be impartial and follow the law.”

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