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Q&A with Judge Mariam Bazzi, Wayne County Circuit Court

By Jeff Burtka posted 01-03-2022 08:29

Judge Bazzi

Judge Mariam Bazzi was appointed to the Wayne County Circuit Court in 2017 after working as an assistant prosecutor in Wayne County for more than eleven years. She currently handles criminal cases and oversees a Mental Health Court docket. An active member of her community, Judge Bazzi currently chairs the court’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

For attorneys who have never been to your court, what is your check-in process?

If they're physically appearing in court, they would check in with the clerk and let the clerk know if their client is there. If they have another courtroom or another matter that they need to take care of, they should let the clerk know, so we can figure out how we're organizing our cases. But typically, we call matters in the order that attorneys check in.

Over Zoom, I use the chat function. When an attorney appears over Zoom, they need to check in on the chat function and let me know if they're ready.

How do you schedule motions?

Once motions are filed and I have received them, I review them and try to set aside a time just for that motion, depending on how complex it is and how many witnesses it will have.

If you have a motion that requires an evidentiary hearing and make the court aware of that, you will receive a specific time to come in to have your matter heard. If it's a motion that can be heard fairly quickly, it can be on any day that the docket is set.

We typically do not start jury trials on Fridays, so many judges will hear motions on Fridays. I like to spread my motions out throughout the week, so attorneys are not waiting in court for a long time for their motions to be called.

Should proposed orders be submitted to the clerk prior to argument?

My clerk typically drafts my orders. I don't require that orders are submitted in advance. I tell the attorneys what the language will be on the order before my clerk types it out and give them an opportunity to make any comments. However, if it's more complex than a straightforward order, I will have one of the parties draft the order, give it to the other party to review, and then send it to the court for approval.

What types of matters/motions are you hearing via Zoom?

Anything that isn't an evidentiary hearing can be held via Zoom, such as an arraignment on the information, putting a plea on the record, arguments on motions, and sentencing. If the defendant is willing to waive the right to be present in court, I have allowed some bench trials and hearings to proceed over Zoom.

Defendants have a right to be physically present in court for their sentencing, but I recognize that there's a convenience for the attorney and client to use Zoom. If I'm setting a matter over for sentencing, I'll ask the attorney, “Does your client wish to be physically present for sentencing, or would you like to handle your sentencing over Zoom?”

They can waive their presence orally. I'll ask them at the time of the plea if they want to be present in court for their sentencing. For those who aren't going into custody and who are just getting probation, typically they'll say, no, they want to be out. And then again, at the time of sentencing, I let them know that they have a right to be physically present in court for their sentencing and ask them if they still wish to proceed via Zoom.

While I typically hold pretty much all matters over Zoom at this point, with the exception of evidentiary hearings and defendants who are in custody, I do offer the in-person option for anyone who wants it.

What are some of the common mistakes/issues you see attorneys making when attending court via Zoom?

There is a convenience to virtual hearings, but it's still important that before anyone gets on Zoom that they've had a full conversation with their client, and their client understands everything that's going on.

When attorneys used to come into court, they would take clients out of court and explain what's going on. Now, attorneys more often are in a completely different place than their clients. Because they're not with their clients, their clients are appearing for hearings and don't always know what's happening, so I find myself explaining what is happening more than I should.

If they are in different locations, I can put people in a breakout room if their clients want to talk to them privately. But because of staffing shortages, we can only have hearings either two days a week or three days a week. With our huge docket, and having a limited amount of days which we can have hearings, we might have 40 cases on a docket. When the attorneys show up, and I need to put them in a breakout room to talk to their clients, it's a very inefficient use of time for the court. I prefer that lawyers appear via Zoom with their clients sitting next to them because it helps the court save time.

Many times, when the attorney is in a different location than their client, their client will call out, “Can I say something to you?” I have to stop and say, "Well, you probably shouldn't," and I'll look at the attorney and say, "What do you want to tell your client?"

They will typically try to give them advice, or sometimes they say, "Go ahead. You can say what you want.”  Attorneys should not be advising their clients that they can make statements to the court when they do not know what those statements are. They should be contacting their clients, discussing the content they wish to share, then coming back in front of the court if it is required.

What are some components of an argument (either in a brief or oral argument) that you find compelling or persuasive?

I enjoy reading briefs where lawyers compare and contrast cases. Many motions and briefs will just state what the law is, but they do not tell me what are the facts that led to that particular holding or how the facts are similar or different to the case in front of me. When I see that comparison and contrasting of the facts, I find it very persuasive. When I do not see that, I have to go and research it myself.

I want to know why a case ended up with the particular law that came out of it, and I want to know how that particular court analyzed that issue to see when I'm analyzing the issue that I'm doing it in a way that is consistent with court precedent.

What procedural issues/disputes should be worked out between the parties before involving you?

I don't like to be involved in discovery. I believe all discovery should be turned over.

I don't think it reflects well on an attorney when I tell them they must turn something over when it's straightforward that they should. I typically want the attorneys to figure out all discovery issues before they bring it to the court, and then I want them to write or file a written motion regarding any discovery that there's a dispute about.

Any other common mistakes lawyers make in your courtroom?

Not talking to their clients or explaining what's going on.

Another mistake is not talking to opposing counsel. I often hear attorneys say, “I didn't know there was a plea offer on the table,” or, “They didn't ask me for anything and now they're complaining they don't have a plea offer.”

It's important to talk to opposing counsel before court. It saves time and energy when you discuss all those issues before court and are not complaining about it on the record.

What do you think is the most commonly misinterpreted court rule or rule of evidence?

Hearsay. Everyone has their own definition of what is hearsay and what isn't hearsay. Often when there's a hearsay objection, an attorney will claim it's not being offered for the truth of the matter asserted, so I allow it. Then, they try to argue it for the truth of the matter asserted later.

What is an example of a time a lawyer impressed you?

I'm always impressed when attorneys come to trial prepared. They have their exhibits marked and an exhibit list that they've turned over to opposing counsel and presented to the court. I'm also impressed when attorneys know their cases and have their evidence organized. I recognize that we are a very busy court, but it's unfortunate how often I don't see these types of things happening.

Finally, it impresses me when attorneys assist each other in court. For instance, one side wants to show an exhibit but can't find it, and opposing counsel hands it to them. I've had jurors say they've noticed how the lawyers treated each other with professionalism and respect. Jurors also have told me when attorneys were unprofessional in the way they treated each other.

What is something interesting you do off the bench?

Two things. I weight lift. I enjoy it, and I guess it’s something that women don't typically do.

Another thing I spend a lot of time on and off the bench doing is mentoring. I'm a big proponent of diversity and inclusion. I actually chair the Diversity and Inclusion Committee for the Third Circuit Court. I think it's important that people, particularly in different and diverse communities, have access to justice and access to people in positions of power because then they can see themselves in that same position as well.

Is there anything else you would like Michigan lawyers to know?

Your reputation is important. One of the proudest moments for me as an attorney was when I was being interviewed by the State Bar for my appointment. The person who did my background check told me that I had a very good reputation among my colleagues and people I work with.

Sometimes, we get in the heat of the case and can do things that wouldn't typically reflect who we are, but we always have to remember that our reputations are important. How we treat people is important. Our ethics are important, and they will follow us throughout our career.