Expanded role: Criminal defense attorney becomes a magistrate

By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

Originally, Ali K. Hammoud – who was recently appointed magistrate in Dearborn’s 19th District Court – wanted to be a teacher, but a conversation with retired U.S. Rep. John Dingell set him on his path to becoming a lawyer.

“One of the required courses for attaining a teaching degree (at Wayne State University) was political science; that course was a vital point in my career switch. As part of the course, I interned for (Dingell, who served 30 terms in the House, retiring in 2015). On the last day of my internship, he and I talked about my future career plans over lunch. I told him I planned on becoming a teacher. Surprised, he explained, ‘Ali, teaching is an honorable profession, but after working with you, I see an attorney – an advocate – waiting to happen,’” recalled Hammoud, 38.

After his conversation with Dingell, Hammoud changed his major and never looked back.

“Becoming an attorney wasn’t the plan,” he said. “(Dingell) was the first mentor who encouraged that route. He inspired my inner advocate.”

A Lebanon native, Hammoud grew up in Dearborn, where he currently lives with his wife Fadwa Hammoud, an assistant prosecuting attorney for the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office. Hammoud earned his associate degree in liberal arts from what is now Henry Ford College in Dearborn in 2002.

Transferring to Wayne State, Hammoud graduated cum laude with his undergraduate degree in political science in 2004. He later attained a juris doctor from what is now Western Michigan University Cooley Law School in Lansing in 2009.

Hammoud has been a board member of the American Red Cross Association of Michigan since 2016 and a member of BRIDGES – a coalition between community members and federal law enforcement agencies – since 2014. Previously, he has been a past president of the Arab American Political Action ­Committee and an advisory board member of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

Earlier this year, Judge L. Eugene Hunt nominated Hammoud as magistrate in 19th District Court. His appointment was unanimously approved by the Dearborn City Council in June. Hammoud’s appointment creates a trifecta of Arab American magistrates for the first time in the history of the court, the other two being Doraid Elder and Helal Farhat.

“I’ve tried countless cases in Dearborn and litigated one of the cases arising from there all the way to Michigan’s Supreme Court,” he said. “I handle a variety of felony and misdemeanor cases – murder, armed robbery, drug trafficking, and civil infractions – throughout Wayne County, but the 19th District Court has always been home.”

Hammoud continued: “Judge Hunt called me and said, ‘Ali, you’re a veteran of this court and possess the integrity, qualifications, and experience to serve your the city as magistrate. It would be an honor if you would accept an appointment to fill that role.’ I’ve known (Hunt) since he was a practicing defense attorney. I’ve looked up to him and valued his opinion and judgement since. I was obviously thrilled and humbled to be considered for this nomination and even more excited for the opportunity to serve my community in this new capacity.” 

As magistrate, a role starting in July, Hammoud will preside over cases such as traffic violations, landlord/tenant disputes, small claims court, minor criminal matters, and other misdemeanors. District court magistrates exercise the jurisdiction expressly provided by law and authorized by the chief judge of the district or division.           

“Every district court is different. Some district courts give a lot more power to a magistrate. The Supreme Court comes up with the basis of the magistrate, and it’s up to the district court to define the roles – to make the role larger or smaller,” he explained. “I’m hoping I can bring to the position something other people have not. Being a defense attorney, I’ve handled so many different types of cases. I feel I can be truly fair and impartial. I think it brings a distinctive way of handling the cases.
You get citizens – your neighbors, your colleagues, your friends – and you’re able to give a perspective that maybe a prosecutor or a civil litigant would not be able to, would not be able to form the same opinion as I would.”

Hammoud will still be able to practice law. He and Kassem M. Dakhlallah, a Fordson classmate, founded Hammoud, Dakhlallah & Associates, PLLC in Dearborn in 2015. Hammoud specializes in criminal defense, while his partner specializes in commercial business litigation; jointly, they handle federal white collar criminal defense. However, Hammoud will not be able to practice law in the 19th District Court; given his position as magistrate there, it is a conflict of interest. 

Hammoud spoke about his early desire to go into criminal law. During his time at Cooley, he excelled at the subject; it just came naturally to him. He’s had experience in criminal law on both sides of the aisles – as a defense attorney and as a prosecutor, having interned for the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office.

“I had a close friend who was falsely accused of rape,” he recalled. “I couldn’t believe that someone’s words could be used against them in such a fashion just to destroy another’s character and – all of the sudden – they’re on trial for rape, which is an extremely serious charge. It has repercussions, which means prison time. We’re talking 10-20 years of prison. He was exonerated by a jury. I wanted to make sure that nobody ever goes through that. It was mind-boggling to me that somebody could say, ‘This person raped me,’ then – all of the sudden – you’re in court defending yourself.”

After his internship ended in 2009, he worked at Barnett Law Group in Detroit for approximately four years. Prior to his current firm, he co-founded the At Law Group, PLLC in Dearborn in 2013, heading the law firm’s criminal division where he supervised five attorneys. It was there he met Dakhlallah, his current law partner.

“I felt a good vibe with (Dakhlallah). He was extremely good at what he does and I was extremely good at what I do. It was a natural fit,” said Hammoud. “I wanted control over the type of cases I handle. You reach a point in your career where you like to litigate things in a certain way, you like to speak to your clients in a certain fashion.”

Telling that story is also the most challenging part of his job.

“Having either a prosecutor or a judge or jury understand why this person didn’t commit a crime or committed a crime for the reasons that I state – it’s hard to get somebody to believe that. You have to overcome this huge burden,” explained Hammoud. “The most challenging thing is defending a kid accused of a felony. I’ve had many kids come up to me 5-6 years later, thanking me for keeping their record clean… I’ve represented innocent people that unjustly found themselves in the system. It’s really rewarding to fight on their behalf and later get rewarded when a judge or jury comes back and says, ‘Not guilty.’ I’m proud of my legal work; it speaks for itself.”

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