by Justice Laura Higley, First Court of Appeals
Justice Marc Brown, one of the two new justices on the 14th Court of Appeals, is a man of fascinating contrasts. He is a graduate of the University of Texas and an avid Longhorn fan, yet sits on the Texas A&M College of Liberal Arts Development Council. He runs grueling half marathons and collects delicate snow globes. He is a life-long hunter yet is the board secretary of Frisky Paws Animal Rescue. This is a man you definitely want to get to know!
Justice Brown, the youngest of four boys, grew up on a farm that sat atop a hill six miles outside of Taylor, Texas in Williamson County. As a child, he hunted dove and quail and fished on the 36 acre lake that was part of the approximately 200 acre farm. He was raised by a father who was a career public servant as well as a World War II Marine combat veteran, and a mother, who he describes as the “hardest working homemaker you’d ever meet.” He reports that it was there that he and his brothers “learned very practical lessons and the values of faith, family and hard work.”
From Taylor he went on to the University of Texas at Austin, just as his three older brothers had done before him. It is clear that he took the value of hard work to heart, as he graduated from college in three years and, then, turned around and graduated from the University of Houston Law Center in two-and-one-half years.
Justice Brown credits his oldest brother Mike and Mike’s infectious love for the law and history as the inspiration for his becoming a lawyer. While he laughs, remembering that Mike described himself as practicing law of the dead — oil and gas and probate law — that is not the legal path that Justice Brown pursued. Instead, after an internship there during law school, Justice Brown joined the lively Harris County District Attorney’s office.
Joining the DA’s office proved to be a very productive career choice for Justice Brown. On the first day of the job, he met Susan, who he describes as the “love of his life.” They married approximately one-and-a-half years later and have been married more than 25 years. As well as finding the love of his life at the DA’s office, he reports that “it was there that my love for the law fully blossomed.” During his more than 22 years as a prosecutor, he became increasingly fascinated with procedure, evidence, and, most of all, the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. During his time working in the major offenders division, Justice Brown gained a depth of experience counseling with police officers on strategies for securing search warrants and conducting legal investigations and searches. In addition, he gained valuable instruction from “his good friend and mentor” Ted Wilson, who Justice Brown describes as the “guru on the Fourth Amendment.” Justice Brown continues to travel the United States teaching judges, attorneys and police officers on the subject.
In the Spring of 2010, Judge Strickland announced his plans to retire from the 180th District Court bench. Although he was asked to consider applying for that bench, Justice Brown was hesitant at first. By that time, his wife, Susan, had been a judge on the 185th District Court for approximately 10 years, and he was somewhat reluctant to establish a two-judge family. However, he eventually warmed to the idea and was appointed to the 180th District Court by Governor Perry in the summer of 2010 and elected in that November.
Thus, in late summer of 2013 Justice Brown began securing the signatures to run for reelection and had completed his petitions by September. However, the Governor had other ideas for his career and appointed Justice Brown to the 14th Court of Appeals on October 7, 2013. Justice Brown likes to joke that that timing gives him seniority over Justice Ken Wise by about 20 hours.
During his investiture, Justice Brown shared the many guiding principles that he brought with him from the trial bench. They are as follows: “A judge should work hard because that judge is paid to work. A judge should learn something from every case that he or she presides over. A judge should not create law or legislate from the bench. A judge comes to the bench with no agenda, hidden or otherwise. A judge must be willing to listen to both sides and be educated. A judge knows that no two cases are the same. A judge realizes that there are no small cases, only small records and a judge should do what he or she thinks is right based on the law and the evidence in the record.” What a great box of valuable tools to carry to the appellate bench!
When asked about the differences he sees between the trial bench and the appellate bench, Justice Brown responded that when the trial is over, you are done for the day. On the other hand, on the appellate bench, there’s always something else to do. He also commented on how much he is learning daily, which, having earned a reputation on the trial bench as the bookish, research-oriented judge, should suit him well. In addition, he expressed surprise at the number of summary-judgment issues he considers regularly. He had expected to review more trial records than he has seen thus far. Finally, he colorfully and accurately describes the transition between the two courts as moving from “the referee on the playing field to what is in essence the replay booth upstairs.”
Justice Brown particularly enjoys oral argument, which should be very good news for practitioners. He says that, when lawyers personally advocate, they provide valuable insight into the points that they consider important. He considers oral argument a great opportunity for a lawyer to highlight the crucial issues. With respect to advice for participants in oral argument, he stresses the importance of thorough preparation and the willingness to answer the questions that are asked. He also comments, however, that it is perfectly acceptable to respond that you are not able to answer a particular question if that is the case.
As mentioned earlier, Justice Brown has been married to his wife Susan for over 25 years. They have two daughters, Amy and Sara, who he says “know more about how judges are elected in Texas than any other college kids you have ever met.” With respect to higher education, the Browns are, indeed, a family divided. While Justice Brown is a graduate of UT, Susan is a Texas A&M graduate. Amy is a senior at A&M and Sara, a junior at UT. When UT and A&M meet on the playing field again, sitting with the Browns will be a memorable experience!
As suggested in the initial paragraph of this article, Justice Brown is a man of many interests. In addition to running half marathons and collecting snow globes (he has over 300 on display in his office) he is a talented photographer, having worked in a photo lab between undergraduate school and law school. He specializes in black and white photographs of architecture and landscapes. He is also a college football junky, a fan of music of all kinds — with rock and Bruce Springsteen at the top of his list — and a devoted reader with a special interest in biographies and political history novels. Where does he find the time?!
When I inquired about the major mentors in his life, he immediately mentioned two, one in his personal life and one in his professional life. He first responded that his Dad had been a huge influence in his life. Justice Brown related that his father had been a WWII combat Marine in the Pacific, as well as a farmer and lifelong public servant. Then, when Justice Brown’s parents were in their 50s, his mother contracted early Alzheimer’s. His father retired and became her caretaker exhibiting the “patience of a saint.” Justice Brown, thus, remembers his father as a model of character and loyalty.
In his professional life, Justice Brown points to retired District Attorney Johnny Holmes as his mentor. He praises Holmes’s immense institutional knowledge after working his way up through the DA’s office. In addition, he describes Holmes as a man who could stand by his decisions and stand by you, never asking you to do what he was not willing to do himself.
I began this article describing Justice Brown as a man of fascinating contrasts. As I complete this article, I conclude, instead, that he is a man who has achieved an enviable balance in his life between the personal, the professional and the spiritual. Hence, I repeat, this is a man that you definitely want to get to know.