“The Best and the Brightest the Legal Profession has to offer”
In April 1998, U.S. District Judge Malcolm F. Marsh took senior status creating a vacancy on the U.S. District Court in Portland. Judge Brown’s colleagues and friends encouraged her to apply. While her last trial as a lawyer had been in federal court before Judge Marsh, most of her practice experience was in state court, and Judge Brown wondered whether she’d be a good fit. Again, a sense of “What’s to lose?” prevailed, and she put her name in for consideration.
At about the same time, Judge Brown was doing pre-trial work on Oregon’s first tobacco-products-liability case, Williams v Philip Morris, arising from the death of Jessie D. Williams, a 67-year-old Portland school janitor who died of lung cancer after smoking for more than four decades. His family sought millions in compensatory and punitive damages from cigarette-maker Philip Morris. The case generated a great deal of publicity at the same time Judge Brown was seeking the federal court appointment. She was thrilled to be involved with the case’s developing issues of law. “There were lawyers from around the country and outstanding local counsel all working hard to shape how Oregon law would develop. It was fascinating work for all of us.” It hadn’t occurred to Judge Brown that her association with the case might affect her chances for the federal appointment. Then a colleague suggested she should withdraw from the case because her rulings of first impression could definitely impact the politics of the appointment process. Judge Brown responded to her colleague, “You know, that’s very kind of you to think of it that way, but if getting a federal appointment means I can’t do this kind of work, then I don’t want it.”
The bipartisan Selection Committee considered several candidates, and Judge Brown was excited to be one of three finalists recommended by the committee. Although she had been in the same room as Senator Robert Kennedy more than three decades earlier, she had never actually met a U.S. Senator before interviewing separately with Senator Ron Wyden and Senator Gordon Smith for this process. On February 5, 1999, after the Senators’ mutual consultation, Senator Wyden officially recommended Judge Anna J. Brown to President Bill Clinton to be appointed to Judge Marsh’s vacant seat. In his letter of recommendation, Senator Wyden wrote, “I strongly believe that you will find that Judge Brown is highly qualified and will stand as a proud legacy to your commitment to enhancing our federal bench with the best and brightest the legal profession has to offer.”
Just over two weeks later, on February 22, 1999, the Williams v. Philip Morris trial began. The jury of six men and six women (three smokers and four former smokers) were asked to answer two questions: 1) Was Philip Morris negligent in manufacturing its cigarettes, and if so, did that negligence cause Williams’ death?, and 2) Did the company make false representations about the causal link between smoking and cancer, and if so, did those representations contribute to Williams’ death?
On March 23, 1999 the jury found in favor of the Williams estate awarding $81,000,000, including a significant punitive damages component. There were numerous appeals to the Oregon Court of Appeals, the Oregon Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court; eventually the original jury verdict prevailed.
In April 1999, President Clinton nominated Judge Anna J. Brown to the federal bench, and although it felt “like an eternity” to her, the Senate confirmed her nomination relatively quickly in October 1999 by a bipartisan voice vote. On October 26, 1999, Chief Judge Michael R. Hogan administered her judicial oath, and Judge Brown stepped up to serve as a U.S. District Judge in, as noted, the very seat occupied by Judge William East who gave her parents their citizenship oath.
In her federal service, Judge Brown has presided over a wide range of civil and criminal matters and widely publicized jury trials, including the 2002 trial of Jeffrey Grayson who was charged with fraud in managing pensions through his business Capital Consultants; the 2009 trial of Jim Nicholson, an imprisoned father and disgraced CIA spy who used his son, Nathaniel Nicholson, to sell protected information to the Russian government; and most recently, the complex, multi-defendant criminal jury trials arising from the January 2016 armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.