Judge Sam Salamey is an immigrant, an Arab, a Muslim. But when he is on the bench, he says he only interprets the law to deliver blind justice.
He says he is tough on crime, but he does take into consideration the details of each case and consider the humanity and circumstances of those standing before him.
By Rasheed Alnozili
The Yemeni American News
Salamey made history in 2012 when he became the first Arab American to be elected to the bench in Dearborn’s 19th District Court, where he currently serves as the chief judge.
Salamey immigrated to the US from Lebanon in 1974 at age 15. Despite the challenges, he earned a law degree and began working at Michael Berry’s law firm and then went on to found his own practice.
“If you have the passion, if you have the drive, if you have the willpower and you stay with it, eventually you get to achieve and become accomplished with whatever objective that you have,” Salamey told the Yemeni American News.
Salamey spoke of a “tough journey” to success and assimilation for immigrants in the US.
“You have to put in a lot of time, a lot of hard work, a lot of sweat and a lot of tears,” he told YAN.
He stressed the need for engagement in the wider community as necessary to becoming a part of the main fabric of the nation.
“You have to become engaged in the community’s activities, in the city’s activities; you have to become an active participant in the decision-making process,” Salamey said.
“You have to register to vote. You have to vote. You have to be always aware of your surroundings, of ways to improve and enhance the quality of life for your community and for your city and for the nation. You have to educate yourself about what’s going on around you and how you can leave a print.”
Assimilation, however, can be done without losing one’s identity, heritage and connection to the homeland, the judge continued.
Salamey himself is an example of successful assimilating while maintaining the ties to his Arabic culture and Muslim faith. The judge is a board member for Leaders for Advancing and Helping Communities (LAHC), and he often frequents Muslim and Arab American community events.
‘Soft and fair with people’
Asked about some people’s perception of him as a tough judge, Salamey said it is a natural human instinct for people who appear in front of the court to feel like the court was tough on them.
“Some cases are tougher than others to decide; some cases are tougher than others to sentence. But I assure you that everyone who comes through this courtroom, who comes before me, is treated fairly without any prejudice or bias.”
However, he warned community members not to expect special treatment from an Arab American judge. “It doesn’t work that way.”
“We have a system of justice, which may not be perfect at times, but I think it’s the best system that is authored by man,” Salamey said.
“We do not legislate from the bench; we only interpret the law. If someone breaks the law, they have to deal with the consequences of their actions. As far as being tough, yes, I am tough on crime, but soft and fair with people.”
Salamey praised Dearborn police, saying that crime in the city is down 14 percent.
“We have an active police department and a very active detective apartment. They are out there and they are catching criminals, who then go through the court system,” he said.
The chief judge warned people against easily avoidable crimes, like driving on a suspended license or without insurance.
Salamey stressed the importance of participating in jury duty, especially in the Arab community.
“Perhaps one of the most noble things we can do is ask our citizens to serve on the jury.”
A message to young people
Salamey’s message to the youth is to work hard and pursue their passions.
“Always know there are no shortcuts to hard work. Invest time, hours, resources into your dream,” he said. “Do something that you have the drive and the passion to do and that will make you a happy person and a happy person makes everyone around them happy. “
He recalled his own difficulties in trying to get to college before owning a car.
“I had to take classes starting at 11am because I couldn’t get there any earlier. I had to catch a bus from Southend to Michigan and Schaefer, wait 30 minutes to take a second bus to what is now Fairlanes town center. I had to then walk to the college, in winter arriving as stiff as a stick.”
The judge said the Yemeni community has a special place in his heart for its passion and honesty.