With the thought that it might be refreshing to see someone with REAL experience in the nitty-gritty of the law sitting on the highest bench in the land....turn around....see with new eyes..
He was born into a tough neighborhood in Washington, D.C., the only child of two schoolteachers. The family moved to south-central Los Angeles when he was a young boy.
Life in the inner city was difficult and dangerous. He saw friends fall to the violence and apathy of the streets. He said that he was one of the few kids in his neighborhood who did not end up "dead or in jail." He said he was able to escape due to his family and his education.
He graduated at the top of his class from Dorsey High School in the Crenshaw area of Los Angeles. He then went on to the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), where he majored in political science and helped pay for classes by digging ditches and loading trucks.
Although, at first, the law had not been his goal, he decided to apply to law school at UCLA and was accepted. He supported himself by working as a substitute teacher while he earned his law degree.
In 1973, he moved to Memphis, Tennessee, to work with legal services there and was later employed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). He became the city's first African American prosecutor in the city and then moved to the Public Defender's office as director.
By 1978, he left public law and opened his own law office. Twelve years later, in 1990, he returned to the public service, when he was elected judge of Division 9, State Criminal Courts, for Shelby County.
He began to make a modest name for himself with his efforts to help kids stay out of trouble and his methods of alternative sentencing. He was known for spending personal time following up on his cases in criminal court, especially those that involved young people. For his work with inner city kids, he was honored at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and given the Olender Foundation's Advocate for Justice Award.
He came into the national spotlight when, in 1998, he was appointed judge on the reopened case of the late James Earl Ray, who had been convicted and sentenced to 99 years in prison for the 1968 assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. Ray always maintained he had not been alone in the killing.
An example of one ruling:This Shelby County (Tennessee) Court Judge, to the utter astonishment of the defendant, was going to let the victim come to the defendant's house and take something as restitution for his crime. He wasn't going to jail, but he was being punished.
" Why are you doing this?" he asked the judge.
"Now you know how it feels," the judge answered.
Later the judge said he could have sentenced the defendant to jail, but "what would he learn?" The defendant had broken into a woman's house and stolen valuables.
Some victims have taken such things as a color television or stereo under the watchful eye of deputies who go along.
That case was not unusual. Known for his unorthodox sentencing, he often allowed victims to go to thieves' homes to take something of equal value to what had been stolen. As part of his alternative sentencing, he had also required other defendants to write on the "Autobiography of Malcom X."
While he was presiding over the Ray case, he appeared on "Nightline," a late-night, nationwide talk show. During that interview he was noticed by another man in a very different industry who offered him a very different position....
I now present to you my choice for Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America....The Honorable Judge Joseph Brown...