Former U.S. Attorney Shares Passion for Justice

For former U.S. attorney John Brownlee, being in a courtroom holds great significance. "The big controversies in this country...started in a courtroom," he reminded an audience of students and faculty at Regent University on Jan. 12, where he spoke at the invitation of Regents Hamilton-Jefferson Society.

Brownlee described how he progressed from an "Army brat" to one of the top lawyers in Virginia and the challenges he faced along the way. After graduating from law school, Brownlee served as a judicial law clerk for U.S. District Judge Sam Wilson. He then served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, a position he describes as "lawyering in its rawest form."

In 2001, President Bush appointed Brownlee to the position of U.S. Attorney. His jurisdiction spanned from Louisa County in central Virginia all the way to "coal country" at the southwest tip of the state. In this position, he developed a successful record prosecuting some of the nation's most corrupt corporations and dangerous criminals.

During his time as U.S. Attorney, Brownlee was confronted with challenges and cases that he said had a profound impact on his life and his understanding of his profession. "Justice isn't easy," Brownlee told the audience. "It's not something that comes every day. It has to be worked at."

One of the most memorable cases he's worked on was the reopening of a case in which two college students at James Madison University were murdered. The defendant was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Brownlee shared that the sister of one of the victims was so grateful for his efforts that she named her baby after Brownlee and one of his colleagues. Even though he doesn't want to brag about his fees, that was the "best fee ever," he told the audience.

A graduate of Washington and Lee University and a 1994 graduate of William & Mary's Law School, Brownlee has taught trial advocacy at the University of Virginia School of Law since 2005.

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