Oct. 24 2008 12:00 AM

Supreme Court: Cliff Taylor and Diane Hathaway

Chief Justice Cliff Taylor is walking around the Hall of Justice, a political target pasted on his back. For more than year, Democrats have lobbed darts at the 11-year veteran. They claim Taylor, an old John Engler appointee, and three other likeminded Michigan Supreme Court justices are tools of hospitals, insurance companies and big business to the detriment of everyday citizens.

Taylor, 65, shakes his head. He said it’s bizarre, maybe a backhanded compliment, that state Democratic head Mark Brewer wants him off the bench almost as bad as he wants Barack Obama in the White House. Almost.

Justice candidates are technically nonpartisan. They’re nominated by the political parties, but they don’t appear on the ballot as Democrats or Republicans.

Taylor said he sees himself more as an umpire than an advocate. If Brewer and the Democrats don’t like a particular law, talk to the Legislature. He said he’s reading these laws to decide cases.

“This is not a Republican court, a Democrat court, a business court or a labor court,” Taylor said. “This is a court of law, and I think the pledge we should make to the people is that we’re going to follow the law. That’s what I try to do and what I think I have done.” The Michigan Supreme Court race involving Republican-nominated Taylor, Democratic Party-nominated Diane Marie Hathaway and Libertarian-nominated Robert Roddis tops a list of five competitive races at every judicial level.

It makes these races for slots on the Supreme, Appeals, Circuit, Probate and District courts the election’s most compelling in Ingham County outside of the presidential match-up.

Hathaway, 54, a Wayne Circuit Court judge, didn’t get into the Supreme Court race until early September when she edged out another Wayne County judge for the Democrats’ nomination, but she said she’s in to win. And she’s going with both barrels blazing.

Only moments after winning the nomination, Hathaway ripped Taylor for being a “walking conflict of interest” since his wife, Lucille Taylor, was a Engler-appointed staffer at the time of her husband´s appointment.

Hathaway also has reportedly claimed the Taylor-led court signed opinions before hearing oral arguments on cases, a charge Taylor said “is a total lie.” She also claims Taylor slept during a case involving children who died in a fire. Taylor said all oral arguments are recorded by Michigan Government Television and demanded Hathaway to produce the evidence.

Meanwhile, Hathaway commonly repeats the common Democratic refrain: “We need justices that follow the rule of law and not the special interests of the insurance industry and large corporations.

We need a justice that’s fair and impartial.” Elected to the Wayne County bench in 1992 after serving five years as a trial prosecutor, Hathaway also worked as a law court for the former Detroit Recorders Court and the Circuit Court.