A native of Iraq, circuit judge relishes challenge of new role


By Linda Laderman
Legal News

Forty years ago, Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Hala Jarbou’s family came to the United States from Telkaif, a small village in northern Iraq.

Jarbou said her parents, Yelda and Baima, taught their six children that even though the U.S. held many possibilities for them, nothing should be taken for granted.

“We knew there were a lot of opportunities, but we also knew that it wouldn’t come easy, we were the ones who needed to give 150 percent,” Jarbou said.

In October, Governor Rick Snyder appointed Jarbou to the Oakland County Circuit Court to fill the vacancy left by former Circuit Judge Colleen O’Brien’s appointment to the Michigan Court of Appeals.

“Wanting to succeed came from the realization that it is a privilege to be here,” Jarbou said. “We came from an area that wasn’t so tolerant, where there weren’t many opportunities.”

The guarantee of religious freedom also drew the Jarbou family to America.

“Religious targeting in Iraq was certainly a factor in our desire to leave, although there certainly wasn’t the persecution there is now,” Jarbou said. “The stronger factor was to reunite with the rest of our family, already living in the U.S. “

The story of how Jarbou’s parents moved thousands of miles from their home to bring their family to this country, animates the 44-year-old judge’s life.

“My brothers and I have talked about how different our lives would have been had they not brought us here,” Jarbou said.“

Considering her own accomplishments, Jarbou said, “Did I ever think this little girl born in a village in Iraq would be a judge someday? No. It’s amazing.”

“We grew up in Oak Park, an eclectic community – a great mix of people and religions,” Jarbou said. “I don’t have very many memories of our village in Iraq. My brightest memory is of my grandparents’ home – I remember the huge lemon tree in the courtyard.

“My parents, and really my whole family, have been supportive in everything I’ve done,” Jarbou said. “They have always instilled in myself and my brothers a strong work ethic – that if you are honest, work hard, and do it the right way, you will be rewarded.”

Because the period between her appointment and when she began her new position was so short, Jarbou was hesitant to take the time to have an investiture ceremony, but she’s glad she did.
“My parents were in awe and very proud,” Jarbou said “This is completely their achievement.”

Educated in the Ferndale public school system, Jarbou went on to the University of Michigan where she earned an undergraduate degree in business.

“I wanted to make sure I had a degree in something I could fall back on in case I decided not to go to law school,” Jarbou said. “But once I was in law school there was no going back.”

After graduating from Wayne State University Law School, Jarbou went to work as an assistant prosecuting attorney for the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office. She left there in 2010 to become an assistant attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, where she served until November 6.  Her first day on the bench was November 9.

“I hit the ground running,” Jarbou said.

Jarbou credits her time as a prosecutor for giving her the experience to fairly evaluate the civil and criminal cases she now hears as a judge.

“Every case is important to two parties. If you were a good prosecutor, you saw both sides of the issue,” Jarbou said. “As a judge, you have to be able to see both sides in order to properly assess the case because you are no longer the one in front of the bench.

“As a practitioner and litigator, I was in and out of court. I never lost sight of the importance of each case to each individual. I try to remember that.” Jarbou said. “In this position you have the power to affect every ruling. It is a great responsibility and very humbling to know that someone has placed that trust in you.”

With an active presence in the legal community and the community at-large, Jarbou goes above and beyond her judicial responsibilities. On January 25 she was sworn in as a fellow of the Oakland County Bar Foundation, she is a member of executive board of the Federal Bar Association, and an active member of the Chaldean American Ladies of Charity.

Despite the demands of the judiciary, Jarbou finds her new job gratifying.

“It’s the satisfaction of knowing that you helped to make something right,” said Jarbou. “I like it. We are doing good things, moving things along.”