Former federal judge Barbara Kloka Hackett dies at age 90

The Detroit News
Barbara Kloka Hackett,

Barbara Kloka Hackett, a former Detroit federal court judge who with her husband raised seven daughters while pursuing a trailblazing legal career, died at her home in Brighton on Sunday, Dec. 23, 2018, surrounded by family. She was 90.

Mrs. Hackett is remembered as a woman of energy, faith and reason, who was passionate about justice, relished life and cherished her family, her daughters and colleagues said.   

She was preceded in death by her husband of 65 years, Patrick Hackett, a prominent railroad lawyer in Detroit, who died last December.

"Mom had a purpose-driven life motivated by faith and love and joy and family," said her daughter, Carol Hackett Garagiola. 

Chief U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood of the Eastern District of Michigan described Hackett as "a beautiful and strong woman." 

“Being strong included being savvy and smart and yet ‘gentle-womanly.’ She was tough when necessary," Page recalled in an obituary posted on the U.S. Court website. "The court will miss her spirit and drive. My thoughts go out to the family.”

Mrs. Hackett was born March 17, 1928, in Detroit, the oldest of two daughters born to parents who lost nearly everything in the Depression, but who rebounded and went on to successful careers, according to the court website obituary and verified by her family. Her parents insisted that both girls attend college at a time when few women were encouraged to pursue an education, her family said.

She attended St. Gregory School in northwest Detroit from first through 12th grade before enrolling at the University of Detroit, where she received a philosophy degree in 1948.

"She was very much encouraged by both of her parents to pursue education," her daughter, Sarah Hackett, said. "She was educated by (Immaculate Heart of Mary) nuns and the Jesuits, and that Catholic core was really foundational for her." 

Hackett was a talented pianist and considered a career in music. Instead, she graduated from University of Detroit Law School in 1950. 

"She shared with us her own sense of purpose," said another daughter, Patty Hackett, noting that she and her sisters followed in their mother's footsteps, choosing "purpose-driven" careers in law, social services, education and editing. 

"Those were her Catholic roots," Patty Hackett said. "She had a very positive understanding of life.  Her faith, even in her dying, was very sustaining and very palpable."

She met her eventual husband, Patrick E. Hackett, on her first day of law school, and they later practiced law together. 

"She delighted in her relationship with our father and with each of her daughters," Patty Hackett said. "She developed relationships with all of her grandchildren and even her great-grandchildren. They genuinely loved her and (had) a relationship with her."

In her early career, Mrs. Hackett worked in the law department of Michigan-Wisconsin Pipeline Co., clerked for U.S. District Judge Frank Picard of the Eastern District of Michigan and served as chief law clerk for the newly created Michigan Court of Appeals. She also spent time as an assistant Wayne County prosecutor and in private practice.

Mrs. Hackett was appointed federal magistrate judge in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in 1973, the first woman to hold that position. She returned to practice law with her husband before President Ronald Reagan appointed her to the U.S. District Court bench in Detroit on April 7, 1986, the court obituary said. 

Mrs. Hackett served nearly two decades on the federal bench in Detroit. Among her high-profile cases were: stripping former Nazi concentration camp guard Johann Leprich of Clinton Township of his American citizenship in 1987, according to Detroit News archives.

She also sentenced former New Jersey Mayor John McCann to life in prison without parole for operating a high-volume international cocaine smuggling scheme with a Birmingham lawyer.

In 1999, according to her obituary on the court website, she ruled that rap duo OutKast was not obligated to pay civil rights icon Rosa Parks for using her name in the title of a Grammy-winning song, due to First Amendment protections. 

"Everyone who appeared before Judge Barbara Hackett knew they were coming before a no-nonsense, well-prepared, and highly dignified judge who would listen to all sides and render a fair and carefully considered ruling — in a timely fashion,” said U.S. District Judge Terrence Berg, who tried cases before her as an assistant U.S. attorney, the website obituary said. “She exuded decorum and rectitude on the bench and was deeply respected by the entire bar."

Mrs. Hackett transferred to the U.S. Courthouse in Ann Arbor in 1997. She went on senior status on April 8,1997, but continued with a full caseload until 1999. She retired for health reasons on March 1, 2000.

In addition to Carol Hackett, Patty Hackett and Sarah Hackett, Mrs. Hackett is survived by daughters Sue Delonis, Lynn Hackett, Meg Hackett, Elizabeth Hackett;  11 grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are being handled by Lynch & Sons Funeral Directors of Brighton. A funeral Mass will be held at St. Mary Magdalen Church in Brighton, with internment at St. Mary Magdalen Church Belltower.