Incoming district judge brings a wealth of experience to job in neighboring county


By Paul Janczewski
Legal News

Diane Bayeh would be extremely proud of her only child.

It’s just too bad that the woman who was so instrumental in Vikki Bayeh-Haley’s rise through the legal profession and recent election to Genesee County 67th District Court bench won’t be there to see her daughter’s investiture on January 13.

“I thank my mom for teaching me about public service,” Bayeh-Haley said. “It’s an exciting time, but it’s hard because she won’t be there on my first day.”

Rose “Diane” Bayeh of Mount Morris Township died last September. The Flint native spent more than 65 years in the Beecher community, was an owner-operator of Diane Mobile Homes, and served as both Mount Morris Township trustee and treasurer.

It was all these gifts that Diane gave over the years to Vikki that molded her life, her legal career and, eventually, her judicial aspirations. Bayeh-Haley said her mother knew she was going to be elected judge before she died. 

“She was very happy about that,” she said.

In fact, mother had planted that seed years earlier, but it took Bayeh-Haley a long time to realize it.

“When I was 11 years old, my mother took me to visit a courtroom, and I thought that was the most amazing thing in the world,” Bayeh-Haley said. “But I never put two and two together back then that I would be somebody seeking that position.”

Bayeh-Haley, 49, was born in Flint, but like her mother, spent most of her formable years in the Beecher-Mount Morris area, graduating from Powers Catholic High School in 1983.

“I originally wanted to go into journalism, I wanted to write,” said Bayeh-Haley, who attended the University of Michigan-Flint where she majored in psychology because the school did not offer a journalism program.

“I was interested in both writing and psychology at the same time,” she said. “And life sometimes is so unfair that, at the time when you’re least equipped to make a life decision is when you have to make that life decision.”

Ironically, her interest in writing would eventually lead to work in the Appellate Division of the Genesee County Prosecutor’s Office. And her mother’s subtle hints once again played a role in shaping this future judge.

“My mother had always wanted to go to law school and never had the opportunity, and I knew that’s what she wanted for me,” she said.

Bayeh-Haley entered Wayne State University Law School in 1987, and graduated in 1990.

“I still wasn’t sure I actually wanted to practice law, but I knew I wanted something to do with writing, and I thought this would be a good option for me,” she said. “And then everything just kind of evolved.”

During law school, Bayeh-Haley interned at an intellectual property law firm, and stayed there briefly after passing the bar exam. Hodgkin’s disease hit her during law school, and again after she passed the bar, so Bayeh-Haley returned to Flint. Her mother also was battling cancer at the time.

She worked in private practice briefly, earned a second degree in English from the University of Michigan-Flint, and in 1993, on her birthday, was hired in the Genesee County Prosecutor’s Office.

Bayeh-Haley said she saw an opportunity there she did not have in private practice – “more power and authority to protect people’s rights.”

“As a defense attorney, you’re reacting, and you advocate for your client’s rights,” she said. “But you’re not always in the best position to change that. And as a prosecutor, your role is to seek justice, and you’re looking out for everybody, and that appealed to me.”

While there, Bayeh-Haley held a number of positions, including handling warrants and conducting preliminary examinations in district court, helping reorganize the Family Support Unit, along with trial and appellate work.

“I’m very fortunate because Prosecutor David Leyton was willing to let people work outside their normally-defined jobs,” she said.

Bayeh-Haley also was able to get out in the community and speak on issues to certain groups, which let citizens know the roles of the prosecutor and feel better connected to that office, especially those victimized by elder abuse.

“Those are probably the most challenging cases,” said Bayeh-Haley, who was recognized by Sheriff Robert Pickell for her role in elder abuse prosecution and her participation in the Sheriff’s Elder Abuse Task Force.

“That was always a big thing for my mom, too,” she said. “She always wanted government to serve the people. Her big thing was to go into the community and encourage people and get people involved.”

Bayeh-Haley said she also learned a lot from her aunt, Anne Nickola.

“She was like a second mother to me,” she said. And from her uncle, attorney John Nickola, she learned that cases are people, not just files, papers and exhibits, and the law affects their life in a very real way. I learned you take every case seriously, as if it’s the biggest case you’ll ever have,” Bayeh-Haley said.

She said her work in the Appellate Division “made me a better trial attorney because I have a better understanding how to make a record and to make sure proper procedures are followed.”

Bayeh-Haley has taught classes to other prosecutors throughout the state concerning evidentiary issues, elder abuse, and various matters pertaining to criminal law. She has worked with the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan to train prosecutors, law enforcement, and social workers in elder abuse investigations and prosecutions.

Bayeh-Haley believes that an active role in the community is an essential part of public service.  She has volunteered her time to engage in community prosecution to educate citizens about criminal law and help them understand their role in crime prevention.  She has written and distributed publications relating to safety throughout Genesee County. And she has been editor of the Bar Beat, a local publication of the Genesee County Bar Association.

She has served on the parish council at Our Lady of Lebanon Catholic Church, as well as on the board of the League of Women Voters as the Director of the Government Portfolio. She volunteers as a Girl Scout leader, a Cub Scout leader, and a merit badge counselor for the Boy Scouts of America.

Bayeh-Haley said it’s a privilege to be a member of the bench.

“It’s a huge responsibility, and I take it very seriously,” said Bayeh-Haley, who succeeds retiring Judge Larry Stecco.“We face a lot of challenges and issues in our community, and I don’t want people to think of the court system as a bad thing.”

Bayeh-Haley and her husband, Patrick, have a 14-year-old son and 9-year-old twins.

“I will miss the Prosecutor’s Office, and the appellate portion of the advocacy, but I’m ready to move on,” she said.