Michael Lawrence Brown – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia

Third time’s the charm?  After two different Obama nominees were blocked from filling this Atlanta-based judgeship, the Trump Administration has put its hopes on a prominent white collar defense attorney: Michael Lawrence Brown.

Background

Brown has close ties to Atlanta, having grown up there and attended the Marist school, an independent Catholic prep school.[1]  After getting an B.A. from Georgetown University in 1991, Brown attended the University of Georgia Law School, graduating in the Top 10% in 1994.  Following his graduation, Brown clerked for Judge J.L. Edmondson on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

After his clerkship, Brown joined the Atlanta office of King & Spalding, LLC., coinciding with another Trump judicial nominee, Claria Horn Boom.  Brown spent four years at the firm, leaving in 1999 to join the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.

In 2002, Brown was hired by then-U.S. Attorney William Duffey to be a federal prosecutor in the Northern District of Georgia.  He served in this role until 2005, when he moved to the Atlanta office of Alston & Bird.  He currently serves as a partner and the co-leader of the firm’s Government & Internal Investigations Team.

History of the Seat

Brown has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.  This seat was vacated on July 31, 2014, when Judge Julie Carnes was elevated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.  Twice, President Obama attempted unsuccessfully to fill this seat.  His first nominee was then-Georgia Court of Appeals judge (and current Georgia Supreme Court Justice) Michael Boggs.[2]  Boggs, a conservative Democrat, was part of a six judge package negotiated between the White House and Georgia’s Republican senators.  Unfortunately, while Boggs received a hearing with the other nominees from the package, he faced strong opposition from progressive groups, who objected to stances he had taken as a state senator.[3]  Ultimately, the Senate Judiciary Committee did not process Boggs’ nomination, and the White House abandoned the nomination.[4]

Facing a Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee, Obama nominated Judge Dax Eric Lopez of the State Court of Dekalb County on July 30, 2015.[5]  However, Lopez, a Latino Republican, drew sharp opposition from some Georgia conservatives for his participation in the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, a nonpartisan civic organization.[6]  Ultimately, Lopez’s nomination was blocked by Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), who declined to return his blue slip.[7]

President Trump declined to renominate Lopez, instead nominating Brown on July 13, 2017.

Legal Experience

Brown began his legal career as a clerk for Judge J.L. Edmondson on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.  He followed this up by joining the Atlanta office of King & Spalding as an associate.  During his time there, Brown was part of a legal team representing a holding company in a legal malpractice action against its former attorneys.[8]  Brown also defended a furniture manufacturer against antitrust liability,[9] and served as court appointed counsel in a Bivens action against federal agents.[10]

In 1999, Brown moved to Florida to serve as an Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA).  In 2002, he moved back to Atlanta to work as an AUSA in the Northern District of Georgia.  In this role, he was part of the legal team prosecuting Baltimore Ravens running back Jamal Lewis for drug charges in 2004.[11]  This case also drew criticism for Brown, as U.S. District Judge Orinda Evans found the charges “weak.”[12]  The felony charges were ultimately plead down to a single charge of using a cellphone to help facilitate a drug deal.[13]

In 2004, Brown moved to the Atlanta office of Alston & Bird, where he currently serves.  In that role, Brown developed a reputation for the vigorous defense of defendants accused of white-collar and corruption crimes.[14]  Notably, Brown represented Crawford Lewis, a former DeKalb County School Superintendent charged with public corruption and racketeering.[15]  Brown helped secure a probationary sentence for Lewis, who was facing up to 65 years in jail, in exchange for testimony against his co-defendants.[16]  When Judge Cynthia Becker, who was unimpressed with the deal, sentenced Lewis to prison anyway, Brown “flooded Becker’s office with calls and emails asking for bond.”[17]  The Georgia Court of Appeals eventually granted the bond request and Becker was struck from the bench for her conduct in the case.

Brown also represented Tyler Peters, a bond trader who was ultimately acquited of conspiracy, securities fraud and wire fraud charges.[18]  Brown has also handled antitrust matters including representing automobile safety manufacturer Autoliv Inc.

Political Activity

Brown has been fairly active as a political donor, having contributed to former Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss and current Senator David Perdue.[19]  In 2012, Brown contributed a total of $3600 to Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy.  More recently, Brown contributed $1000 to the Right to Rise PAC, which supported the presidential campaign of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.  While most of Brown’s contributions have been to Republicans, his most recent contribution was $250 to California Senator Kamala Harris.

In 2012, Brown was one of two non-jurists to be included on Gov. Nathan Deal’s list of finalists for a Georgia Supreme Court vacancy.  Deal ultimately chose Georgia Court of Appeals judge Keith Blackwell.

Overall Assessment

As an appellate clerk, a former federal prosecutor, and a law firm partner, Brown is well-qualified to serve as a federal judge.  Having served as a prosecutor and a defense attorney, Brown has the experience to gauge both sides of a criminal case.  At any rate, Brown lacks the baggage that brought down both the Boggs and Lopez nominations.  As such, as a candidate who supported both David Perdue and Kamala Harris, Brown will likely be confirmed comfortably.


[1] R. Robin McDonald, Alston & Bird Partner Brown’s Path to the Georgia Federal Court Bench, Daily Report, July 18, 2017, http://www.dailyreportonline.com/id=1202793307311/Alston-amp-Bird-Partner-Browns-Path-to-the-Georgia-Federal-Court-Bench?slreturn=20170709231611.

[2] Press Release, White House, President Obama Nominates Eight to Serve on the United States District Courts (Dec. 19, 2013) (on file at https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov).  

[3] See Humberto Sanchez, Next Nasty Nomination Fight for Obama: Michael Boggs on the Hot Seat, RollCall, March 10, 2014, http://www.rollcall.com/news/home/debo-adegbile-defeat-emboldens-michael-boggs-opponents.

[4] Burgess Everett, Obama Abandons Judicial Nomination, Politico, Dec. 31, 2014, http://www.politico.com/story/2014/12/president-obama-abandon-michael-boggs-nomination-113898.

[5] Press Release, White House, President Obama Nominates Seven to Serve on the United States District Courts (July 30, 2015) (on file at https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov).  

[6] See Greg Bluestein, Johnny Isakson Says Dax Lopez Deserves a Hearing: ‘I Believe in the Constitution’, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Jan. 11, 2016, http://politics.blog.ajc.com/2016/01/11/johnny-isakson-says-dax-lopez-deserves-a-hearing-i-believe-in-the-constitution/.

[7] Seung Min Kim, Republican Senator Sinks GOP Judge’s Nomination, Politico, Feb. 2, 2016, http://www.politico.com/story/2016/02/dax-lopez-federal-judge-appointment-david-perdue-218460.

[8] Hunter, MacLean, Exley & Dunn, P.C. v. Frame et al., 507 S.E.2d 411 (Ga. 1998).

[9] Rockholdt Furniture Inc. v. Kincaid Furniture Co., Inc.; Rhodes Furniture Co., 1999 U.S. App. LEXIS 22426 (6th Cir., Sept. 10, 1999).

[10] Uboh v. Reno, 141 F.3d 1000 (11th Cir. 1998).

[11] George Henry, Lewis Pleads Not Guilty to Drug Charges; No Trial Date Established for Ravens Running Back, Wash. Post, Feb. 27, 2004.

[12] See supra n. 1.

[13] See id.

[14] See id.

[15] See id.

[16] Maghen Moore, DeKalb Judge Becker Gobbled Up in Corruption Investigation, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Aug. 26, 2015, http://www.myajc.com/news/local/they-wanted-head-the-wall-judge-becker-says/A8Vq5qrwcasZvFBlP26CLI/.

[17] Id.

[18] Press Release, Alston & Bird, Former Nomura Bond Trader Wins Jury Acquittal on Securities & Wire Fraud Charges (June 20, 2017) (on file at https://www.alston.com/en/insights/news/2017/06/former-nomura-bond-trader-wins-jury-acquittal).

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