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Michigan judge fighting to keep Fla. house

AP Wire • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:50 AM

Steve Fishman declined to address the government's specific allegations against Justice Diane Hathaway and her husband. But he said the couple will file a claim to keep a home in Windermere, Fla., out of the hands of federal authorities.

"Of course they are filing a claim. It's their house," Fishman said in an interview.

The U.S. attorney's office in Detroit filed a forfeiture lawsuit Monday seeking to seize the home as the fruit of a shady real estate deal. Hathaway has not been charged with a crime.

The government said Hathaway and Michael Kingsley temporarily transferred the Florida property to a relative while trying in 2010 to negotiate a short sale on their home in Grosse Pointe Park, a Detroit suburb.

After the short sale went through and a $600,000 debt was erased, the Florida home went back into the couple's names, according to the government.

The government contends ING Bank was the victim of fraud because the transfers weren't disclosed. The discovery of a major asset might have convinced the bank to reject a short sale, which means a bank and a borrower agree to sell a property for less than what is owed on the mortgage.

It's unclear whether the bank blessed the government's lawsuit, but authorities didn't need approval, an expert said.

"The U.S. attorney can act independently," said Detroit-area attorney Jorin Rubin, who filed forfeiture complaints when she worked for the government. "The victim is private but the crime is a public crime. They are enforcing the bank laws."

Phone and email messages seeking comment from ING were not immediately returned Wednesday. There was no public comment from Hathaway, who denied speculation Tuesday that she would quit the court. That was before the government's lawsuit became news.

The state Republican Party wants Hathaway, a Democrat, to resign. The GOP controls the Supreme Court, 4-3.

"Her actions are offensive to the many Michigan families who have faced difficult times during Michigan's economic downturn," party spokesman Matt Frendewey said.

Michigan Chief Justice Robert Young Jr., a Republican, wants Hathaway and Fishman to "clear the air" and explain the property transfers.

"As far as Bob Young is concerned, when he starts letting me tell him how to do his job, then I'll let him tell me how to do mine," Fishman said.

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