The entire Fresno area legal community was shocked to learn about the passing recently of one of their own. Fresno County Superior Court Judge Brant K. Bramer passed away at the young age of 60. A former prosecutor turned judge, he was not shy in lecturing defendants, especially those who were young and seemed arrogant.
My experience with Bramer came approximately 12 or so years ago and, immediately, he caught my attention. At the time, I was an intern for the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office and a certified law student by the State Bar of California. To get better experience in the courtroom, I was allowed to accompany deputy district attorneys to court and even spoke on the record for a few cases.
I was in my mid-20s and a little confident, maybe too much for my own good. Dressed in a matching suit and tie, I felt like the world was at my fingertips.
At the time,Bramer was in DUI court, located at the very bottom of the courthouse in downtown, Fresno. As soon as court started, he got my attention. A defendant walked into court late, very late and had an FTA (failed to appear) on her record.
The judge temporarily remanded her after she began to tell a story, which seemed partially true. Everyone paid attention. He later let the defendantgo free, but not before a few minutes of a tough heart-to-heart lecture about responsibility, the need to be on time and abide by the law.
Heart-to-heart talks were common in his courtroom, and I am sure he made an impact on some of the defendants who went before him. His talks had me wanting to be even a better person than I was, and I wasn’t even breaking the law.
Later in the day, the attorneys and I went to his chambers to discuss an issue. He had footballs, helmets and other stuff all over his office. I called it collectables; he called it “junk from over the years.”
Months later, I invited the judge on my radio program and asked him about his techniques. I specifically asked him about his lectures to young people. His answer was solid. Being a father himself, he admitted being “young and foolish” once. As prosecutor then as a judge he spent time doing presentations at schools on mock sentencings.
“Young people, I always say, when you are 18, 19, 20 years old, you think of yourself as bulletproof. I know I did when I was at that age. You think nothing can happen to you,” the judge said in my interview and continued, “all you would need to do is drive under the influence, crash into somebody, hurt them. It doesn’t have to be a life-threatening injury, and your life changes.”
He was right. Many people have ruined lives with DUIs.
Noticing that the judge wasn’t impressed by those coming to court late or not showing up at all, I asked him why that bothered him. Again, his response was solid.
“I work for the taxpayers,” he said and continued to explain that the taxpayers pay for everyone else to show up. He felt it was disrespectful for defendants to be late.
“It’s not like showing up at a restaurant where you make a reservation and if you don’t show up, they scratch your name off of the list,” he said. His stance was that people have an obligation to show up to court, and the only reason they are out is because in some manner they promised to appear. “To me, my promise, my word is worth something,” he said.
I learned a lot in my interview and short experience in Bramer’s courtroom. Some things about his background people may not have known about are that he was raised in the small town of Strathmore in Tulare County.
To him, coming to Fresno was like going to the big city. He went to community college at Visalia’s College of the Sequoias and graduated from the University of California. But law school wasn’t his immediate pick after graduating.
At one point, he was thinking of being a teacher or football coach. Many are glad that he picked law. He had a way of getting his message across to those facing charges. His parents were his biggest role models.
The last time I saw Bramer was a few years ago. He was walking up the county parking garage during lunch, presumably getting his exercise. I called his name, and with a big smile, he waved and said hello. His big presence will be missed in the courtroom and community.
Sevag Tateosian is host and producer of The Central Valley Ledger on 90.7 FM KFSR Fresno and CMAC Comcast 93 and AT&T 99. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.