FEMA director Mike Brown was originally brought into the agency as its general counsel, under the auspices of his old college roommate (and Bush fixer) Joe Allbaugh. By now we all know that Brown is an emergency manager who knows nothing about managing emergencies, and a former horse association commissioner who knew nothing about horses… but apparently, he was also a general counsel who was hardly even a real lawyer.
In a devastating expose published today in The New Republic, University of Colorodo-Boulder law professor Paul Campos determines to answer the question “of exactly what, given Brown’s real biography, he is qualified to do.” The answer, not surprisingly, is very little.
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.
According to Campos, Brown received his J.D. in 1981, and spent the next couple years representing the interests of a “prominent local family” in Enid, Oklahoma, followed by an 18-month stint at a local law firm (that no longer exists.) But it appears that by 1987 he had already more or less abandoned his legal career. From 1991 to 2001 he served as commissioner of judges and stewards for the International Arabian Horse Association, a full-time position from which he resigned under pressure.
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 Findlaw.com, 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.
Campos further deconstructs Brown’s FEMA bio, in which he impressively claims to have 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.” Campos’ translation?
In Oklahoma, he graded answers to bar exam questions, and, in Colorado, he volunteered to serve on the local attorney disciplinary board.
Campos’ summation is equally devastating, and a pointed critique of the Bush administration.
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 resum