Hon. Hala Y. Jarbou was appointed judge of the Oakland County Circuit Court in 2015, assigned to the civil/criminal division. Before her appointment to the bench, she was an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Department of Justice from 2010 to 2015, and an Assistant Prosecuting Attorney in the office of the Oakland County Prosecuting Attorney, from 1997 to 2010. Judge Jarbou was the presiding judge (for males) of the Oakland County Circuit Court Adult Treatment Court from 2016 to 2018. A member of the Michigan Judges Association, she is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan (SBM) as well as a member of its Character and Fitness Committee (District I), was an advisor of the Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee, and is a fellow of the SBM Foundation. Judge Jarbou is also a member of the Federal Bar Association (FBA)—Detroit Chapter, a member of the FBA's executive board, and cochair of the FBA's Criminal Practice Committee and Legal Ethics Committee. She is a member of the Oakland County Bar Association (OCBA), a team leader of the OCBA's Inns of Court from 2016 to 2019, and a member of the OCBA Foundation. A former hearing panelist of the Attorney Discipline Board, Judge Jarbou has also served as an instructor for the Oakland Police Academy and the National Advocacy Center.
What advice do you have for attorneys navigating the new discovery rules that went into effect on January 1, 2020?
Read the rules. All of them. Completely. It sounds simple, but it is essential.
Recognize too the purpose behind rewriting these rules. The discovery process needed to be streamlined—it was being abused in civil practice. The changes will hopefully prompt litigants to start talking to one another sooner and be less antagonistic. This should better prepare them to settle cases more efficiently and less expensively.
Keep in mind that all of the judges are aware of the reasons behind redrafting the discovery rules and will strictly apply them.
For attorneys who have never been to your court, what is your check-in process?
I have two clerks, and at least one of them will be there for check-in on motion call morning. We assign numbers to the motions, so attorneys should check in with their motion number. Motions are called in the order of check-in. Once both parties are there, the motion can be called.
Do you have any particular briefing requirements? What sort of arguments in a brief do you find compelling?
We will send out a scheduling order for motions for summary disposition. Call to get a hearing date. We try to stay within the time frame given by the court rules so decisions are made in a timely fashion.
As far as arguments—be direct. Give me the basis in law that you are relying on. Brevity is always a great thing, whether in a brief or oral argument. And don’t recite your brief in oral argument. I’ve already read it.
If your brief is rejected for exceeding the page limit, don’t just refile and use smaller font.
When is your motion call? Is there a maximum number of motions heard during motion call?
My motion call is Wednesday morning, like all of Oakland County Circuit Court. There is no maximum number of motions on a given day.
Should proposed orders be submitted to the clerk prior to argument? Do you expect orders to be drafted in court, and, if so, are there computers for drafting them?
Proposed orders must be submitted once a motion has been ruled on. I don’t need them prior to argument. There are blank orders in the courtroom that attorneys can complete by hand. For more complicated rulings, parties may want to e-file the order. In those circumstances, the order must be filed by the end of the day.
How should stipulated orders be submitted? How should judge's copies of motions be submitted?
Oakland County uses e-filing, but the judge’s copy should be sent to my chambers.
Who makes up your judicial staff, and what roles do they play?
My two court clerks run the docket in the courtroom, monitor all of the e-filing in chambers, and handle day-to-day scheduling. I have a staff attorney who assists with summary disposition motions, appeals, and, occasionally, settlement conferences. My judicial assistant helps with administrative matters.
What procedural issues/disputes should be worked out between the parties before involving you?
The parties should work out as much as possible, particularly things like dates and motions to compel. Talk to each other—I will ask the parties if they have talked to each other when I’m hearing a motion. If they have not, I will pass on ruling until they have talked to each other.
What types of pretrial conferences do you hold, and what happens at them?
I have a mixed civil and criminal docket. I don’t really have pretrial conferences for civil cases. Parties can come in for a status conference or a settlement conference. However, starting in January, these earlier conferences will become more common.
The criminal call is Thursday afternoon. During this time I will handle arraignments, pretrial, sentencing, and violations of probation. The pretrial is a chance to assess the timeline, determine what still needs to be done, and set the case for trial.
Any common mistakes lawyers make in your courtroom? How can lawyers impress you?
It is always impressive to see good legal scholars. But the lawyers who impress me the most are the ones who are professional, ethical, and civil—regardless of who is on the other side and even if the other side is not conducting themselves in that manner. Unfortunately, I see a lot of incivility, especially in civil practice. Attorneys forget that it takes years to build a reputation, but it takes only one instance of bad behavior to ruin it.
What do you think is the most commonly misinterpreted court rule or rule of evidence?
The hearsay rules are the most used and objected to. However, a lot of people don’t have enough experience with objecting. The legal citation may not be correctly correlated with the objection. Part of trial strategy is to anticipate objections. Have the court rules and rules of evidence that you expect will be at issue in front of you so you can properly object. Trial experience helps build that knowledge. You don’t really know the rules until you apply them—that’s when you learn the intricacies.