MUNAZZA HUMAYUN is a human services judge at the Minnesota Department of Human Services. She previously worked as an unemployment law judge and appellate attorney at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. She is a trained mediator and active volunteer at the Conflict Resolution Center in Minneapolis.
What led you to seek employment with the State of Minnesota?
When I applied for my first job with the state as an unemployment law judge, I was looking for an intellectual challenge. I also knew I didn’t want to work at a place that imposed billable-hour requirements. Working for the state as a relatively green attorney turned out to be perfect: My first job provided great training and mentorship, a chance to practice legal writing that laypersons could understand, and opportunities to try different roles within the same organization. I ended up representing the Department of Employment and Economic Development in the Minnesota Court of Appeals and the Minnesota Supreme Court for a year after working as an unemployment law judge for a couple of years.
What is your role as a human services judge at the Minnesota Department of Human Services?
I hear and decide appeals from people who are served by DHS-administered programs or DHS-licensed facilities and have been aggrieved in some way by actions of these programs or entities. The issues range from whether an individual abused a vulnerable adult or a minor under her care, to whether a nursing facility can stop serving a client who poses safety risks to its staff, to whether a DHS-contracted managed care organization must pay for braces for a child enrolled in its health plan. Many of our cases involve both federal and state law. I conduct between 10 and 20 hearings a week, weigh evidence, research the law, and prepare written recommended orders with findings of fact and conclusions of law, which are then adopted by the commissioner of Human Services as the agency’s final decision.
Tell us about your prior work as an unemployment law judge at the Department of Employment and Economic Development.
My role at DEED was similar to what I do now for DHS. I heard 16 to 20 appeals each week from employers and their former employees about whether unemployment benefits should be granted, or whether the former “employees” were employees at all. I also heard appeals from employers challenging how their unemployment tax was calculated, as well as cases involving the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance program.
Have you encountered many surprises as an attorney for a state agency?
I wouldn’t say “surprises,” but realizations over time. One is that your role, first and foremost, is to be a public servant; the job and the work are not about you, but about the people you are there to serve. I have also come to admire the hard work and dedication to public service that the vast majority of my colleagues in state government exhibit every day in their work. Government employees sometimes get a bad rap, but in reality you’ll find that most government workers are highly committed to finding ways to best serve the public. The government attorneys I have worked with genuinely care about the public good and think deeply about what implications a particular interpretation of the law might have for Minnesotans in future cases.
What opportunities do you find helpful as a member of the MSBA Appellate Practice and New Lawyers Sections?
I am really grateful for the opportunities both sections provide for professional development and pro bono work. The Appellate Practice Section has a wonderful pro bono appellate project for attorneys to represent clients in the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The New Lawyers Section offers numerous low-cost and free CLEs geared toward new attorneys, and lots of opportunities to learn through pro bono work. You also get to know colleagues and learn from them.
What do you enjoy doing away from work?
I run and do yoga. And I balance that out nicely by also being a burger enthusiast (my husband and I joke that our “marriage mission” is to travel across small-town America, eat burgers and fries, and rate them). I love to read and paint. For a time I performed stand-up comedy and I hope to take that up again soon.
What advice do you have for a law student or attorney considering a career in a government agency?
If you are looking for meaningful work, and you have a modicum of patience for a certain amount of bureaucracy, a career in state government is a good choice. I am happy to discuss what my experience has been like with anyone considering whether a state government career is right for them. s