Longtime Fresno County Superior Court judge Brant Bramer, who was known for tough, but fair rulings and gruff demeanor, especially toward drunken drivers and defendants accused of elder abuse, died Thursday morning after collapsing at Copper River Country Club.
He was 60.
Mr. Bramer apparently died of a heart attack, according to a friend of the judge who asked not to be identified.
“As some of you already know, I lost my Dad today,” son Reade Bramer wrote on Facebook. “He was a guiding light in my life and one my closest confidantes. The thought of not being able to call him up to ask for advice, share my troubles and triumphs, or just bemoan Cal football is too much to contemplate.
“That he had enough of an effect on people to warrant this outpouring would probably surprise him more than anyone.
“I love you Dad. Thank you.”
Mr. Bramer was prosecutor in the District Attorney’s office for 14 1/2 years, from December 1985 to April 2000. He was named to the Fresno County Superior Court bench as a court commissioner in May 2000 and heard a variety of calendars over the next 16 years before retiring on Jan. 3, 2017. He then went to work as a Madera County traffic court commissioner.
“Commissioner Bramer was a beloved colleague who genuinely helped people in need and thereby bettered our community,” said Presiding Judge Kimberly Gaab. “He will be greatly missed. The judges and staff of the Fresno Superior Court are thinking of his family at this most difficult time.”
A former Cal football player, Mr. Bramer was known for his stern demeanor in the courtroom and didn’t mind bluntly calling out people – whether it was those on trial, lawyers or even those just watching the proceedings.
Mr. Bramer also was congenial. He often called up lawyers to his bench for a side bar for a friendly chat or talk Cal and UCLA football and always ready to bash USC.
News of Mr. Bramer’s death hit the legal community hard.
“I am saddened tonight upon learning that Brant Bramer passed away earlier today,” Fresno attorney Terry Wapner said on Facebook. “He was a great judge, in particular, when we had the DUI court. I can’t tell you how many clients have expressed their appreciation for his tough love from the bench. I will miss him greatly.”
Fresno defense attorney Martin Taleisnik said on Facebook that Mr. Bramer got a lot of flack for how he ran his courtroom or how he talked so much. “I never had a problem with him … ever,” Taleisnik said. “ I listened to everything he said over and over and over. Every time, I would tell myself how right he was … all the time. You could count on him to do the right thing!”
Taleisnik said early in his career, when Mr. Bramer was a prosecutor, Mr. Bramer “would bust my chops” at sentencing hearings. Taleisnik said that years later, Mr. Bramer told him that “he did that to teach me how to prep my cases for sentencing. I learned so much from him.”
Taleisnik recalled representing a young defendant who lived with his grandmother but didn’t work or contribute to the household. In court, Mr. Bramer referred to the defendant as “The Leech.” After getting sentenced, “‘The Leech’ turned it around and was thriving,” Taleisnik said. “Brant rode him hard and changed this kid’s life. There are countless stories like that.”
In one of his last higher-profile cases, Mr. Bramer scolded a man who pleaded no contest to running over and killing an elderly man in a wheelchair in a hit-and-run collision.
“To forgive you is a living memorial” to the victim, Mr. Bramer told the man who had pleaded no contest.
In another case 10 years earlier that involved a then-Fresno State athlete, Mr. Bramer lectured the player for wearing a hooded sweatshirt and shorts, and coming into the courtroom with disheveled hair.
“Is there some reason you’re wearing short pants in my courtroom today?” Mr. Bramer asked. “Do you own long pants? The (district attorney) is worried about you taking this issue seriously and … I’m trying to make a point here, sir, that this is really serious stuff.”
Outside of the courtroom, Mr. Bramer could be quite easygoing and full of spirit.
Mr. Bramer in May was inducted into his high school alma mater’s football Hall of Fame.
He played at Strathmore High, College of the Sequoias and Cal before graduating in 1979.
In fact, Mr. Bramer’s family has deep football roots.
His nephew Lars Bramer played at Fresno State from 2009-2013. And Mr. Bramer’s younger brother Keeley (Lars’ father) played for the Bulldogs in 1979-80.
“We all understand that football is something to have fun with but not make a life out of,” Brant Bramer said in a 2013 interview. “But there’s great lessons to learn from the game and what it takes to play at the college level.”
Brant K. Bramer
Born: June 21, 1957
Died: Sept. 28, 2017
Occupation: Court commissioner
Survivors: wife, Terri; son Reade and his wife Briana; son Trent
Memorial service: pending