Posted by on March 15, 2013 in Blog

By Jennine Vari

Spring 2013 Intern

In 1974, Sam Salamey was just 15 when he arrived in Dearborn from Lebanon and began working to help support his family. This past November, Salamey was elected as a 19th District Court Judge, becoming the first Arab American judge in Dearborn.

Salamey’s interest in law began during college when he took a few courses in Criminal Justice that resonated with him. The first job he took was with the Dearborn Police Department as a community relations officer, and served in that capacity for 2 years before going to law school. While working for the police, he grew fond of laws and law enforcement in general: “The US is totally different, it’s a country of laws, not of men.”

After graduating from law school, he worked for Arab American attorney Michael Berry at the firm of Berry, Hopson, Francis, Mack, and Seifman in Michigan. He started in the Dearborn office, but quickly made partner in three years, and worked there until 1992. After all the partners had retired, he left to serve as a Judicial Magistrate from 1993 to 2006, during which time he familiarized himself with the aspects of the judicial docket.

Salamey was the first Arab American appointed as a Judicial Magistrate in Dearborn, so for him it was only natural to take the next step and run for election. His first campaign for judge was in 2006, but he came in 3rd in the primary. By 2012, he felt that it was the right time to run again, explaining that “in politics timing is everything.” He felt the Dearborn court needed a change and some direction after it had suffered some setbacks in recent years.

Salamey does not believe that his Arab American identity negatively affected the election outcome, but acknowledges that it is one of the elements that in the past people would have exploited to hamper the election. Even though the city has a large Arab American population, he did not base his campaign around his heritage. He ran as a judge for the entire city of Dearborn and credits Dearbornites for being open-minded. “They elect the person they believe is the best for the job,” Salamey said, “and don’t look at ethnic background as a negative factor that they will include when making a decision.”

It is this support from voters and volunteers that he acknowledges led to his 4,000-vote win against incumbent Richard Wygonik. He said the volunteers worked hard during this campaign and tried to reach as many voters as possible by walking door-to-door.  Salamey believes that the message of change and treating people with fairness resonated throughout the city. He is grateful for their support and reiterated that he cannot thank the volunteers and voters enough.

As a life-long Dearbornite, Sam Salamey has also served outside the courts. He has remained engaged in the affairs of the Arab American community through professional and community organizations, including the Lebanese Heritage Club, the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, and ACCESS. He and his wife of 25 years still live in Dearborn where they raised their three children, and as District Court Judge Salamey promises to remain committed to the city and its residents. “I will do everything in my power to live up my promises and their expectations.”

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