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Wednesday, September 10, 2003

In memoriam: J. Michael Bradford (1952-2003)

According to press accounts (here and here), Mike Bradford — an acquaintance and contemporary of mine at Texas Law School in the late 1970s who later served as the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas during the Clinton administration — apparently took his own life this week.  When I was a "freshlaw" at UT (what they call a "1-L" at many other schools), Mike was the first upperclassman I had many dealings with — and what he taught me then has influenced my practice of law on a near-daily basis ever since. 

I mourn his passing.

One of the traditions at Texas Law School, going back many decades and persisting still, is that volunteer third-year (senior) students serve as "Teaching Quizmasters" to instruct small groups of first-year students in a pass/fail course on legal writing and, in particular, on legal citation form. As an undergraduate, I had always been annoyed by what seemed to me to be overly picky and archaic rules for listing one's sources in formal research papers — "op. cit." and "ibid." and the like struck me as silly. So I was decidedly unenthused, bordering upon annoyed, when I learned that the law has its own system for citing to sources of all sorts — appellate court decisions, statutes, law review articles, treatises — and that it was considerably more complex and picky than the system used by nonlegal academics.

I was very fortunate, then, to have been assigned to a TQ named Mike Bradford — a tall, lanky third-year student whose patience, fortunately for me, seemed unlimited.  Mike introduced me to the "Bible of legal citation form," the so-called "Bluebook" — the Uniform System of Citation jointly published by the law reviews of Harvard, Columbia, Penn, and Yale Law Schools. And very gradually, under his tutelage, our group of first-year students began to appreciate the distinctions between, for instance, a citation that began with the "signal" called "see, e.g.," and one which began with just the signal "e.g.," or instead with "see also" or "but cf." — each of which tells the knowledgeable legal reader a little something different about what to expect if he goes to look up that particular source. 

Mike also began walking us through the Texas Law Review Manual on Style (a/k/a "the Whitebook"), which was a sort of "Strunk & White" for legal writing; and the Texas Rules of Form (a/k/a "the Greenbook"), which overlaid the Blue Book's citation rules with yet another set of citation rules peculiar to Texas.

Eventually, TQ Bradford not only managed to drag me through all this dry but essential ritual of written legal protocol — although "Legal Writing and Research" was a pass/fail course, no one was allowed to fail it — but he actually got most of it to sink in. Ever so slowly, he imbued in me a growing appreciation for the utility and — I know this sounds very wonkish to say — the elegance of the system:

  • Yes, it does matter whether you include a parenthetical to indicate whether the Texas Supreme Court refused the application for writ of error on that opinion from the Eastland Court of Civil Appeals on the basis of "n.r.e." (no reversible error) or "w.o.j." (without jurisdiction). 
  • No, you don't need to include the year that the decision was announced in the first "court-and-date" parenthetical in the citation, since it's the same year you're listing in the later part of the citation to demonstrate that the US Supreme Court denied certiorari; but if the cert. denied subsequent history was in the following year, then yes, you list both years. 
  • Yes, it does matter whether you underscore that signal. Why?  [Deep sigh.]  Because if you don't, then professors and eventually lawyers and judges who are reading what you've written will conclude that you either don't know the rules or don't care about them, and they'll also conclude that you really are an ignorant hick from the prairies of West Texas who's better suited to cotton farming than arguing constitutional law!

And so forth. Of course, Mike never actually said anything to me about my being an ignorant hick from West Texas, and I don't know anything about his own background. But if, as I think likely, Mike was a Texas boy of modest means with the same kind of chip on his shoulder when he started law school that I had, he had probably figured out that fellows like us badly needed to learn this sort of stuff cold in order to compete with the Ivy Leaguers and the well-connected who populated the seas in which we were learning to swim. 

I realize now that compared to, say, medical school, law school has comparatively little "scut work" and rote memorization. But this was the worst of what we had, and it simply had to not only be gotten through, but absorbed. Fluency in these rules is essential, because a lack of it is the quickest way to destroy one's credibility as a legal writer. As I learned later, snobbish law clerks for appellate court judges, for instance, can be extremely harsh critics of such formalities, assessing disproportionate subjective consequences for a misplaced comma or an inappropriately omitted parenthetical.

Service as a TQ was a nice résumé credential and may even have earned the third-year student some minimal course credit. But it was a lot of work, of the most tedious sort. It was very definitely the performance of a service to the law school and the legal profession. It wasn't until my second year in law school — when I qualified for the staff of the Texas Law Review and became a mega-wonk on citation form myself — that I realized how good a job Mike Bradford had done with our group, and how much to his credit it was that he had demanded more of us than is typical in most pass-fail student-taught courses.

I bumped into Mike from time to time over the next twenty-five years when he was a state district judge in Jefferson County and then a U.S. Magistrate and eventually the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas. Probably his most famous case as U.S. Attorney was when he successfully defended the government against the claims brought by family members of the Branch Davidians killed during the debacle outside Waco. I was certainly not a close friend of his — more likely in a courtroom crowd I was one of those noddingly familiar "Where do I know him from?" sort of faces to him.

But I'm grateful for what he did for me as my Teaching Quizmaster back in 1977-1978, and I admire his later contributions to our profession. I don't know what demons and nightmares may have led him to take his life, but I knew him well enough to be able to say with assurance that his premature death is a tragedy, and I wish it hadn't ended for him that way.


UPDATE Sun Sep 14 @ 11:45pm:   The Beaumont Enterprise has a report on the funeral services here.

Posted by Beldar at 08:15 PM in Law (2006 & earlier) | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to In memoriam: J. Michael Bradford (1952-2003) and sent a trackback ping are listed here:


(1) Olen Kenneth Dodd made the following comment | Sep 11, 2003 8:40:12 PM | Permalink

Michael Bradford was a friend.But I have also known him as a passing acquaintance, an associate, a mentor, and a boss. In each of these rolls he was that odd mix of someone who was steady as a rock, patient as Job, ironic in his humor and unfailing in his tolerance for the failings and foibles of others. One time on a long ride back from the airport in Houston, after a long three days with some very trying personalities, I was venting about how difficult I found one particular lawyer. I knew that Mike shared my opinion, but his comment was "they are just human". I guess that was one of the things that I liked best about Mike. Whatever a persons faults, he saw past the irritation to see the human underneath the attitude. If I can fault him for anything, it is that though he had so many talents, and so many friends, and so many people who respected him, he did not let us know how troubled he was. I will miss him not just for his own qualities, but because of his passing, he has left the world with one less honest, sincere, intelligent, mature and classy guy. He deserved to go out better than he did.

(2) Mike Lee made the following comment | Sep 18, 2003 1:11:19 AM | Permalink

I am glad that I found this site. I knew J. Michael Bradford from the time we were both starting out as young lawyers in Beaumont, Texas. I am completely dumbfounded as to why such an accomplished man would have felt so compelled to take his own life. I hope that, we, as lawyers, can take this unfortunate event to try to develop some way of affording our colleagues some private outlet to deal with the stresses of everyday life in the profession, especially the difficulties of that life. I feel in my heart that Mike should have had someone to turn to for help and counseling, if necessary, to deal with the almost incomprehensible act of taking one's own life. If he, who was among the best of us, was driven by difficulties to such an extreme, it would be appropriate for us, the living, to honor him by doing all we can to make sure that no other colleague of ours feels so compelled, constrained or alone

(3) Beldar made the following comment | Sep 18, 2003 2:59:52 AM | Permalink

I appreciate Mr. Lee and Mr. Dodd's comments.

Since this was posted, I've gotten dozens and dozens of search engine hits on this piece. I hope other lawyers who knew Mike won't hesitate to leave their own comments as well. A week later, I'm still feeling very troubled by this, and I'm sure I'm far from the only one.

[Update (Mon Aug 6, 2007): To reduce opportunities for comment spammers, the "add comments" function on this post, like on all my old ones, is likely to be turned off when you read it. But if you'd like to add a comment, please email me, and I'll gladly re-enable them long enough for you to do so. — Beldar]

(4) Lannis Temple made the following comment | Aug 6, 2007 6:30:53 PM | Permalink

I first met Mike in 1974. We were both students at North Texas State (as it was called then). We were both in student government and we lived three houses from each other.

Earnest is the word I would use to describe my first impression of Mike. He earnestly wanted to actively do his part to improve
the policies of goverment whether it be student, local, state, or national)in a fair manner. Fairness to Mike meant fairness to all--a balancing of all interests.

North Texas was known as a huge party school then, and every Friday and Saturday night there were at least 3 or 4 parties to go to (at least that is my memory) where the atendance would be over 30 students. Mike was not a member of the "party circuit," preferring to study and read (mostly about politics).

I was a friend of Mike's at college and throughout his life, and we consistenly stayed in touch and socialized, yet I wouldnt say I was close to him. I didn't really know anyone who was real close to him.

I liked his laugh and his dry, self-deprecating humor.

The last time I talked to him was about two weeks before he died. I had had a real hard time reaching him as he was doing a lot of traveling for work--a very hectic schedule.

Mike and I were about one month apart in age--and we were both litigators. I had scaled back my travel for a few years as I didnt have the
taste or energy for it that I had had in my 30's and most of my 40's.

I remember saying to him, "Mike, I dont know how you do it (referring to his flying around). I just cant keep up a schedule like that at my age." His response, "I can't either."

He sounded tired and somewhat defeated. I wish I had explored that statement more with him. I regret that.

I talked with his secretary after I heard the news. She said it was a surprise to her and the firm and that they didnt see it coming.

I asked her if she had known that Mike was the sixth man on his high school basketball team that played for the state championship game (the highest level back then--I think that was 4A). She said no.

Mike was like that. He didnt talk much about his achievements.

I remember Mike talking about that game. His team was R.L.Turner and their tallest guy was 6'4". Their opponent was a very talented Houston Wheatley team.

Wheatley's 6'10" center would later play in the NBA and I believe two others would play at the major division I level. They had two or three other players 6'6" and up.

He did get to play and had shots rejected right back at him. He was very good natured about the lopsided defeat.

Mike was very good natured.

I miss him.

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