Friday, September 09, 2005

Sweet Jesus: More on Mike Brown

And the walls come tumbling down. Just received this from intrepid reporter George. From the New Republic (registration required), claims that Brown essentially earned his law degree from a fly-by-night operation, as well as other issues that make his appointment even more of a farce:

Legal Brief
by Paul Campos, professor of law at the University of Colorado-Boulder

By now, the basic contours of Mike Brown's ascendancy to director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have come to light. Journalists have uncovered that Brown had almost no relevant experience for the position and got hired by FEMA because he was a longtime friend of George W. Bush's close associate Joe Allbaugh. The story being reported, in other words, is that Brown was a lawyer who ended up
with a crucial post in the Bush administration because of rank cronyism.

This is a well-known Washington narrative: hotshot lawyer gets appointed to a high government office despite lacking the expertise someone in the position ought to possess. For example, on September 6, The Washington Post fit the Brown scandal into this narrative in a front-page story, saying that Brown has been "caricatured as the failed head of an Arabian horse sporting group who was plucked from obscurity to become President Bush's point man for the worst natural disaster in U.S. history."

Yet, far from being a caricature, this description, if anything, understates the absurdity of the situation. The real story of Brown's meteoric rise from obscurity is far more disturbing, as well as a good deal more farcical. It's clear that hiring Brown to run fema was an act of gross recklessness, given his utter lack of qualifications for the job. What's less clear is the answer to the question of exactly what, given Brown's real biography, he is qualified to do.

To understand the Mike Brown saga, one has to know something about the intricacies of the legal profession, beginning with the status of the law school he attended. Brown's biography on fema 's website reports that he's a graduate of the Oklahoma City University School of Law. This is not, to put it charitably, a well-known institution. For example, I've been a law professor for the past 15 years and have never heard of it. Of more relevance is the fact that, until 2003, the school was not even a member of the Association of American Law Schools (aals)--the organization that, along with the American Bar Association, accredits the nation's law schools. Most prospective law students won't even consider applying to a non- aals law school unless they have no other option, because many employers have a policy of not considering graduates of non- aals institutions. So it's fair to say that Brown embarked on his prospective legal career from the bottom of the
profession's hierarchy.

So what did Brown, who received his J.D. in 1981, do with his non- aals law degree? In 1985, Brown joined the firm of Long, Ford, Lester & Brown in Enid, Oklahoma. When I spoke to one of its former members,Andrew Lester (the firm no longer exists), he recalled that Brown was with the firm for only "about 18 months." Lester, who is a longtime friend of Brown, believes that Brown spent most of his time in the first few years after law school pursuing his own legal practice and representing the interests of a prominent local family. Lester vigorously defended his friend's overall abilities, as well as his qualifications for the fema directorship, pointing out that fema had dealt with more than 100 federal emergencies during Brown's tenure. In any case, despite the claim of Brown's fema biography that he practiced
law for 20 years prior to his 2001 appointment as fema 's general counsel, it appears that, by 1987, he had already more or less abandoned his nascent legal career. From 1987 to 1990, Brown's resumé includes being the sacrificial lamb for the Oklahoma Republican Party in a 1988 congressional election, in which he won 27 percent of the vote against the incumbent Democrat, and stints as an assistant city
manager and city councilman in Edmond, Oklahoma. (According to fema, because of these positions, "Mike Brown has a lot of experience managing people.") By 1991, he had moved to Colorado, where he became commissioner of judges and stewards for the International Arabian Horse Association (iaha). This position, which never made his fema bio, was Brown's full-time job from 1991 to 2001, and it had nothing to do with
the practice of law.

Brown's job was to make sure that horse show judges followed the rules,and his enthusiasm for their strict enforcement won him the nickname of "the czar," as well as the enmity of contestants, some of whom sued the Association, as well as Brown himself. According to a September 6 Denver Post article, Brown became embroiled in controversy when allegations were made that, to help pay his legal fees, Brown solicited a nearly $50,000 contribution from an iaha member whose conduct he was
supposed to regulate. Lester, who represented Brown in the iaha 's suits, told me that this was a misunderstanding, due in part to the iaha 's initial unwillingness to fulfill its contractual obligation to cover Brown's legal costs. "People are focusing on these attacks made against him when he was with the iaha ," Lester says, rather than looking at the work that Brown had actually done at fema . Brown
resigned from his position in 2001 under pressure, and the iaha was reorganized as the Arabian Horse Association.

What, then, are we to make of the claim in Brown's fema biography that, prior to joining the Agency, he had spent most of his professional career practicing law in Colorado? Normally, an attorney practicing law in a state for ten years would have left a record of his experience in public documents. But just about the only evidence of Brown's Colorado legal career is the Web page he submitted to , an Internet site for people seeking legal representation. There, he lists himself as a member of the "International Arabian Horse Association Legal
Dept." and claims to be competent to practice law across a dizzying spectrum of specialties--estate planning, family law, employment law for both plaintiffs and defendants, real-estate law, sports law, labor law, and legislative practice. With all this expertise, it's all the more striking that one can't find any other evidence of Brown's legal career in Colorado.

So what legal work did Mike Brown perform before his stunning reversal of fortune? According to his fema biography, "[H]e served as a bar examiner on ethics and professional responsibility for the Oklahoma Supreme Court and as a hearing examiner for the Colorado Supreme Court." Translation: In Oklahoma, he graded answers to bar exam questions, and, in Colorado, he volunteered to serve on the local attorney disciplinary board.

When Brown left the iaha four years ago, he was, among other things, a failed former lawyer--a man with a 20-year-old degree from a semi-accredited law school who hadn't attempted to practice law in a serious way in nearly 15 years and who had just been forced out of his job in the wake of charges of impropriety. At this point in his life, returning to his long-abandoned legal career would have been very difficult in the competitive Colorado legal market. Yet, within months of leaving the iaha , he was handed one of the top legal positions in the entire federal government: general counsel for a major federal agency. A year later, he was made its number-two official, and, a year after that, Bush appointed him director of fema .

It's bad enough when attorneys are named to government jobs for which their careers, no matter how distinguished, don't qualify them. But Brown wasn't a distinguished lawyer: He was hardly a lawyer at all. When he left the iaha , he was a 47-year-old with a very thin resumé and no job. Yet he was also what's known in the Mafia as a "connected guy." That such a person could end up in one of the federal government's most important positions tells you all you need to know
about how the Bush administration works--or, rather, doesn't.

Paul Campos is a professor of law at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

Posted by crimnos @ 9:11 AM

Read or Post a Comment

can this get any more tragically pathetic? Honestly...I'm on pins and needles awaiting the next scandal...

George W. Bush, backpedaling America's progress since 2001....

I think that's going on a shirt

Posted by Blogger Jessica @ 9:34 AM #
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