Q & A with Judge Zainab Baydoun, Administrative Law Judge for the State of Michigan

By Kanika Ferency posted 02-03-2020 08:22


Judge Zainab Baydoun is a Senior Administrative Law Judge for the State of Michigan, presiding over complex, multifaceted administrative hearings for the Department of Health and Human Services and the Bureau of Community and Health Systems. Cases may involve adoption subsidies and the Juvenile Guardianship Assistance Programs, Medicaid disability, eligibility trusts and divestment, state disability assistance, requests for expunction from Michigan’s Child Abuse and Neglect Central Registry, and Child Welfare Licensing.

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

Most of my hearings are held at Cadillac Place in Detroit. The parties will stop at the security desk in the main lobby of the building and show their notice of hearing. They’ll be given a visitor sticker and instructed to go to the Third Floor Annex, where they will sign in for their hearing at the suite window. When it is time for their case to be called, my secretary will escort the parties and witnesses to the assigned hearing room.

 Do you have any particular briefing requirements? What sort of arguments in a brief do you find compelling?

Briefs can be filed in accordance with the Michigan Administrative Procedures Act and the Uniform Hearing Rules for the Michigan Office of Administrative Hearings and Rules under the Michigan Administrative Code.

Parties may file prehearing or posthearing briefs or written closing arguments. Hearings may also be held by brief when it appears to the administrative law judge that a material issue of fact does not exist and the questions to be resolved are solely questions of law.

 When is your motion call? Is there a maximum number of motions heard during motion call?

I do not have a motion call day, but parties may file motions (including motions for summary disposition) at least 14 days prior to the date set for hearing. A response to a motion may be filed within 7 days after service of the written motion.

I will review the motions and responses and determine whether scheduling an oral argument on the motion will be necessary.

 Who makes up your judicial staff and what roles do they play?

 I do not have a law clerk, so I am responsible for all of my research and the writing of my hearing decisions, proposals for decisions, and orders. I have one legal secretary who works with me and two other ALJs in our office. She assists me with proofreading, processing, and mailing my written decisions and orders; communicating with the parties; and scheduling my hearings.

 What types of pretrial conferences do you hold, and what happens at them?

 Prehearing conferences are held either by phone or in person to address and resolve preliminary and procedural matters prior to the hearing, including jurisdiction, consolidation of related cases and narrowing of the legal issues raised in the request for hearing, the order of case presentations, deadlines for the identification and exchange of documentary evidence and witnesses, filing motions, issuing subpoenas, and scheduling the administrative hearing. 

 I will issue an Order Following Prehearing Conference and Notice of Hearing that will detail what was discussed and agreed on, the filing deadlines, the issues presented, the legal authority for conducting the hearing based on the case type, and the hearing date, time, and location.  

 Any common mistakes lawyers make in your courtroom?

Administrative law is a specialized area. I often find that lawyers are unfamiliar with the Michigan Administrative Procedures Act (MI APA), the Uniform Hearing Rules for the Michigan Office of Administrative Hearings and Rules under the Michigan Administrative Code, and the applicable statues, state and federal regulations, departmental policies, and administrative rules for each case type. 

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

In the cases I preside over, it would be Section 75 of the MI APA, which states:

24.275 Evidence; admissibility, objections, submission in written form.

Sec. 75.

In a contested case the rules of evidence as applied in a nonjury civil case in circuit court shall be followed as far as practicable, but an agency may admit and give probative effect to evidence of a type commonly relied upon by reasonably prudent men in the conduct of their affairs. Irrelevant, immaterial or unduly repetitious evidence may be excluded. Effect shall be given to the rules of privilege recognized by law. Objections to offers of evidence may be made and shall be noted in the record. Subject to these requirements, an agency, for the purpose of expediting hearings and when the interests of the parties will not be substantially prejudiced thereby, may provide in a contested case or by rule for submission of all or part of the evidence in written form.

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

Lawyers impress me when they are on time, are organized, have prepared their arguments and witnesses, have reviewed the opposing party’s proposed documentary evidence, and have well-researched legal support for the arguments presented. I also am impressed when lawyers are able to state specific grounds or rules for the evidentiary objections and responses raised.

 What is something interesting you do off the bench?

I like to travel and spend time working with the nonprofit organization I founded, the EmpowerME Project. It is an educational and legal aid organization focused on assisting and empowering marginalized women to alleviate the legal barriers that may be hindering their paths to gaining independence.