By Darrell Todd Maurina
Robert Brack said he never planned to be an attorney. He never planned to become a state district court judge. And he certainly never planned to become a federal judge.
So Brack, 50, said he could hardly believe the U.S. Senate voted Monday afternoon to confirm him for a new federal district court seat in Las Cruces.
Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., told the Senate he was glad to recommend Brack.
“It’s not always easy to know that you really got the right individual, that they are going to do justice to that terrific responsibility, which is theirs for such a long period of time under our Constitution,” Domenici said Monday afternoon. “But in this man’s case, I’m certain of both. I’m certain he is as good as there is.”
Domenici noted a bipartisan support for Brack, whose confirmation was approved by unanimous voice vote.
Brack said he expects to conclude his Clovis judicial work by July 25, move to Las Cruces on July 29, and begin his federal work shortly thereafter.
“I can’t imagine that this happened to me,” Brack said. “This is not something I aspired to, this is not something I was groomed for.”
Brack said he has lived in Clovis since age 12, when his father was transferred to New Mexico to work on the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe railroad.
Brack said people aspiring to federal judgeships usually attend East Coast law schools and joked that his parents did send him east — to Eastern New Mexico University. Brack didn’t decide on a legal education until he took the LSAT, a law school admission exam comparable to the undergraduate ACT and SAT exams, and received an unexpectedly high score.
Once he finished his second year of law school at the University of New Mexico, Brack said he knew he had found his calling.
“I loved the client contact, loved the courtroom work, and it was an opportunity to be of service in the community where you live,” he said.
Brack spent 17 years running his own law practice in Clovis before being urged by a retiring state judge to consider becoming a district court judge. He said he never planned to serve on the bench but appreciated that opportunity to serve his adopted hometown.
“What I have loved (about) being a state district court judge was being in a position to positively affect the lives coming before you, all of which are in crisis for one reason or another,” Brack said. “It has always been my practice to get to know the people coming before me. I always refer to them by their name. It would be really easy to just get caught up in the process and forget their personal lives.”
The same thing happened with the federal post — Brack said he was urged to “put his name in the hat” by Nelson Franse, an Albuquerque lawyer who once attended Clovis High School.
“Before last September, the thought had never occurred to me,” Brack said. “I decided to just see where it went. I had no idea how far things would go.”
Before long, Brack found himself in the White House and later the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee being interviewed on his judicial philosophy. Brack said he told the same thing to President George W. Bush’s legal assistants that he later told the Senators.
“He asked me what my judicial philosophy was, and I was so naive that I didn’t understand what they meant,” Brack said. “I said my judicial philosophy is found in the Old Testament prophet Micah, who says in Micah 6:8 we are to ‘Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.’”
Both President Bush and the Senate Judiciary Committee member chairing the judicial confirmation hearings liked that response, Brack said.
“(Sen. Lindsey Graham) looked at the other judges and said, that’s going to be a tough act to follow,” Brack said.
Working out that philosophy may be harder at the federal level than the state level where he could get more involved in the lives of the people before him, Brack said, but he hopes the federal system won’t be too much of a change.
“It is a huge challenge going to the Las Cruces bench because of the tremendous criminal docket,” Brack said. “I am going to be able to come to speed pretty quickly because of my judicial experience and I don’t think the learning curve will be as steep with me as for someone who didn’t have judicial experience.”