Federal prosecutors on Friday filed charges against Michigan Supreme Court Justice Diane Hathaway [official profile] in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan [official website] for alleged real estate fraud involving a short sale of her home in Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan, and sale of a house in Florida. Hathaway was already set to resign on Monday, and she has been off the bench since she announced her decision to resign [Detroit Free Press report] on January 7 following a complaint filed by the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission [official website] for violation of judicial conduct rules. The charges filed on Friday were filed as a criminal "information" [AP report], and a guilty plea is expected. Hathaway and her husband are accused of deeding their home in Florida to a relative while negotiating a short sale on the Grosse Pointe home they could not afford, resulting in a $600,000 debt they owed to their bank being erased. Once this happened, their names went back on the house in Florida. The bank fraud charge against Hathaway alleges that she made false statements to the bank, fraudulently transferred property to others and failed to disclose available cash. The allegations stem from an investigative news report [WXYZ report] by Detroit's WXYZ Channel 7 Action News [official website] in May which revealed evidence of the transaction to the public.
Judicial corruption has been an important and controversial issue world-wide in recent years. In October the UN called on nations around the world to do more to combat judicial corruption [JURIST report], stating that it is a human rights issue because it can deprive people of their due process rights. It also said keeping the judiciary free from corruption is critical to "strengthen judicial credibility and independence." In 2010 the World Justice Project [advocacy website] released a report [JURIST report] ranking countries by their adherence to rule of law, which used factors such as level of corruption, rights and access to judicial remedies. The results of the report showed a trend that rule of law was lacking more in poorer countries than it was in countries with stronger economies.