Retired Wayne County judge forges a new career in legal facilitation

 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 eight years then serving nearly two decades on the Wayne County Circuit Court bench before retiring 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, was a Wayne Circuit Court judge before becoming chief assistant prosecutor.

“They.. 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.”

Hathaway is one of two lawyers among her seven 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 plans. “But when I graduated... 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?’ 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 wed 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.

For Groner, who presided over the 2008 obstruction of justice case involving then Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, the marriage 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 proceedings, which came to a head in September 2008 when the disgraced mayor pleaded guilty to two counts of obstruction of justice stemming from the well-known text messaging scandal. “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 college odyssey included stops at Michigan State University, Wayne State, and Marshall University, followed by law school at UDM. After earning her J.D., 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... he really shared his legal wisdom and experience with all of us in the office.”
Family and colleagues en-

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

Hathaway 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 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. 

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. “She had patience, but also an effective management style that recognized the judge was in control. And she was very respectful.”
 
Prior to being 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 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. 

The three, according to Judge Groner, have inherited their mother’s sense of humility, on display earlier this year when Hathaway bid farewell to the bench. 

“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.”

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 asked that she recuse herself from the case. Much to the party’s amazement, she “granted” the motion 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.

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

“As soon as attorneys heard that she was... going into facilitation work, they started trying to line her up for cases,” Groner said. “She told them... 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... a judge. That’s just the type of person she is – honest and straightforward.”