The first thing I asked DA candidate Bob Brewer when I met him yesterday was if he could do “something about the traffic?” as it was bumper to bumper at 2:30 in the afternoon on I-5 as I drove to the interview – (okay it was a Friday – but really?) . We both chuckled and grimaced and he responded, “yeah, I’ll build another freeway” knowing full well that wasn’t the answer.
We sat down in an empty conference room on the 3rd floor of one of those new fancy buildings in the Carmel Valley area. He’s “of counsel” for the firm Jones Day where he’s been for the last 6 years.
Bob handed me some campaign literature just before beginning, and asked me if I wanted some coffee. When I said yes, he whisked away and brought it back. He didn’t hit some button and ask a secretary or clerk to get it.
I told him I wanted to get to know the “real Bob Brewer” and for the next hour plus I peppered him with questions and he responded in kind. First we explored his personal history.
Brewer had been a prosecutor up in Los Angeles. He did that for 2 and a half years. Then he was hired on as an Assistant US Attorney for the LA office and dealt with federal courts – he did that for four and a half years. He told me while a prosecutor he had 35 jury trials, whereas as a US attorney he had the same number of trials but over almost twice the time period.
As a prosecutor, he said, he had shorter trials, more trials, and worked with street cops. Whereas as an Asst US Attorney, he worked on long-term investigations, dealing with different types of judges and – something he really liked – he handled a case from day one to argument in court and all the way to appeal if necessary. He was elevated to the Assistant Chief of the Criminal Division, definitely part of management, supervising 10 to 25 attorneys and another staff level of 10 to 15 more people.
Over his legal career, he said, he had been a civil plaintiff’s lawyer, a civil defendants lawyer and for a while did some criminal defense work – but primarily he has done civil litigation over his 32 years as a lawyer. “I’m a trial lawyer,” he said rather proudly.
After a stint in the Army, he wanted to begin his legal career in San Diego so he attended USD Law School from 1972 to 1975. “I knew I wanted to be a prosecutor,” but at the time he graduated there was a hiring freeze at the DA’s office in San Diego. So he gravitated up to LA where he worked for 7 years.
Bob Brewer was born in Hartford Connecticut, but left when he was 6 months when his parents and siblings moved to Ithaca, New York, the site of Cornell University – where his father, Robert Brewer, Sr., worked. His mother, Josephina, also worked at Cornell for a while. His mother is still living – she’s now 93 – I whistled – and in “great health” he said – and still living in Ithaca. He also has an older sister and younger brother.
Robert Sr, who ended up also selling life insurance, died unexpectedly at the young age of 46, leaving his mom in the lurch. Bob had come home during a break from college and told her he was going to quit school in order to help out the family. He had realized the financial straits the Brewers were now in. He does remember very clearly, however, when his mother sat him down and adamantly told him “you gotta go back to school.”
Bob took her advice and graduated college in 1968 with a BA in Government, and a minor in American History. Yet, in order to graduate he needed a scholarship – and he got one from the ROTC on campus. That meant instead of celebrating the end of college life for a few months, he had to report almost immediately to get his basic training at Ft. Benning, Georgia. He had been commissioned as a second lieutenant and had joined the Infantry.
Over the next 6 months, he was trained in Benning’s Airborne and Ranger schools. Luckily, his first assignment was as the company commander of an infantry unit in Germany, in Mainz – for the First Brigade 8th Division. He did this for one year. But it was 1970 and the Vietnam War was at its height. So that is where he was next sent.
We talked for awhile about his Vietnam experiences. His main goal, he told me, was to survive. He still will not go to see a Hollywood movie about the war. “I don’t want to see a Hollywood version of the Vietnam war,” he said emphatically.
Two days after arriving in Vietnam as an adviser to a Vietnamese airborne division, he boarded a helicopter and was flown to Cambodia. It was the end of April and early May of 1970; President Nixon on April 30th had just announced the invasion of Cambodia and intensified bombings of North Vietnam. Campuses across the country exploded in protests. But Brewer did not hear of any of that – until he came back from Cambodia nearly a month and a half later.
He told me that helicopter ride into Cambodia will never leave his memory. “We landed under fire,” he said, “and as I jumped off the helicopter, a body bag was thrown on it. I asked who it was, and I was told it was the guy I replaced.”
It was literally hell for the next 45 days while in Cambodia, as he was involved in a firefight every day – sometimes three. He saw “a lot of combat.” And he had some grim thoughts.
“I remember very clearly being flown out with injured Vietnamese soldiers and looking down at the jungle, and thinking if this was the first 45 days, I’m not going to survive.”
While involved in all that fighting, Brewer recalled, he and everyone else he was with had no mail or any information from the rest of the world for 45 days. When he got back to his base in Vietnam, there was a stack of mail waiting for him.
One item stood out; it was the current Time magazine – and it had that infamous and iconic photo from Kent State with the woman screaming over a dead and bleeding body on the ground. It had a headline about the massacre. “What is happening?” he thought to himself. Here he was a soldier fighting supposedly for our country but back home soldiers were shooting students. “Things were not good,” he said.
After Captain Brewer returned safely to the States, he wanted to get out of the Army as soon as he could. He loved the Army and had grown close to those he had worked with – but he had lost friends in the fighting.
“I didn’t talk about if for 10 to 15 years,” he said, “I had terrible nightmares – the sounds and smells were terrible.”
Brewer also remembers vividly the flight home; he and everyone on the plane were euphoric as they landed near the Bay Area – they had survived the war, they had made it home.
“Then this First Sergeant comes onto the plane – a big guy – and says ‘Welcome back to the world’ “. They were all officers in uniform being warned by an enlisted man. And then the sarge advised everyone that if they were going to the San Francisco airport not to wear their uniforms out of a fear of being accosted by opponents of the war.
“This was a sobering statement,” Brewer recounted. And it was symbolic of the times. I asked him whether he had experienced any abuse or harassment from civilians once he had returned. No, not really, he said, but “there were no positives, no one ever thanked us” for their service in Vietnam. “It was a very difficult period,” he summarized.
Brewer spent his last year in the Army out in Missouri, being the operations officer for the basic training set up.
Years later, he was diagnosed with Agent Orange-related non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma – from Vietnam. He had been victimized – my words – by his own government’s use of chemical defoliants. He did beat it after going through 6 months of chemo and radiation. It was 1997 but he didn’t turn to medical marijuana as Prop 215 was not even a year old. His experience and additional information made him realize the medical benefits of marijuana.
As he had made the decision to get out of uniform when he could, he recalled that he had received props while in the service for his clear presentations and briefings, and had been advised to get into the armed forces JAG. So, he decided to go to law school instead, although he stayed in the Reserves for another 5 years.
“When I was in law school, I realized I wanted to be a prosecutor.”
By why San Diego? I asked. What had brought him to San Diego?
Brewer explained that he had medical issues, as he had a parasite from Vietnam; he was losing weight and was sent to the VA Hospital here in San Diego. He fell in love with the city at once. And he wanted to be an attorney in San Diego so he figured he had to go to a local law school, which he did, but found no work here, which again led him up to LA for a few years.
Bob returned to San Diego in 1982 as he had gained a job in a local civil law firm. He lived in Tierra Santa back then.
When I asked him how he had met his wife, retired federal judge Irma Gonzalez, he replied that they had met when both were in the US Attorneys Office so, after he had already come south, she also moved to San Diego for family reasons. Once here, she looked him up and they began dating for about 2 years, and married in 1984. She had a daughter from a previous marriage.
I asked him if he had to call her “Your Honor” when she was mad at him. He smiled and said no, but there are appropriate times he said when he does call her that. Gonzalez was a Superior Court judge for two years – and then was appointed to the Federal bench in 1991. When she was appointed she was the very first woman Latino federal justice in US history. “I married the best judge, ever,” he declared.
Bob started his first firm, Dyer, Brewer and Walton – a civil lit group. His transition to civil law was difficult and challenging he said, but he enjoyed learning about discovery, as he “wanted to be more of a complete lawyer.” Their offices were on B Street. He worked there for 2 to 3 years, then started another firm, Chapin and Brewer – where 10 to 15% of their practice was criminal. This was during the time Brewer represented a very public figure – Nancy Hoover of the J David Dominilli scandal. Hoover was convicted of tax evasion but nothing to do with the larger scandal that also enveloped Roger Hedgecock, Brewer said.
Brewer’s big job came when he became managing partner for the San Diego office of an international firm, McKenna and Cuneo – where he had close to 50 employees to oversee. He did this for twenty years. In 2008, he joined Jones Day – where he is today.
I had to ask the question, as our conversation drifted into the current campaign. When did you first realize that you wanted to run for DA?
His first issue with Bonnie Dumanis was her outrageous act, he said, right after being re-elected DA for her third term, she turned around and announced she was running for San Diego mayor. After being DA for 70 days and after taking an oath for that office, she began her mayoral campaign.
This was back in the days when local press called Dumanis “the most powerful politician in San Diego County”. This disgusted Brewer. And this is where he has focused his own campaign on “public safety without politics” – one of his foremost slogans.
“The most powerful politician in the county should not be a prosecutor,” he stated with a firmness that bespoke his determination to make changes in the DA’s office.
As Brewer has criticized Dumanis for politicizing the office, he has pledged many times that he will not make any endorsements for political office.
A second issue about Dumanis arose for Brewer when he found out that when she ran in 2010 for her third term – she was unopposed – but she was not endorsed by ANY law enforcement. When Brewer later found this out through his own contacts with different police agencies, he was shocked.
After Bonnie had lost in the June 2012 Mayoral Primary, for the first time, Brewer started asking people what she was going to do. Soon after endorsing Carl DeMaio for mayor, Bonnie announced she was running again in 2014 for DA.
Perceiving Dumanis as having violated her oath of office one too many times, Brewer thought: “This is not going to happen,” he did not want to see her re-elected again. He asked the police officers association – and was told that they had not endorsed her in 2010. “Her oath of taking the District Attorney vow in 2011 was meaningless,” he said.
Asked about his campaign polling, Brewer responded that it is “extremely encouraging” in that the incumbent is pulling lower than 50% – which is all that he needs. His aim is to force her into a run-off, and if he can do that, he feels he has an excellent opportunity to becoming the next DA.
As our time was running short, I began throwing single-issues at him.
Medical Marijuana? He’s a cancer survivor, and knows quite well the side effects of chemo and radiation. He is now a firm believer that the symptoms and side-effects of the treatments can be alleviated by medical marijuana.
I asked him about how his office would handle the famous “OB felony hedge trimmer” case. “It’s basic leadership,” he replied. The DA office needs competent leadership, and cases need to be vetted with senior management. This case happened, he said, due to a lack of leadership in the right places.
In terms of leadership, Brewer explained, Dumanis had brought her own people into the DA office as management that were never deputy district attorneys. “Three senior people in the DA’s office were never deputy district attorneys,” he said. He vowed never to do that.
There’s a thousand employees in the District Attorney’s Office, Brewer told me, with a budge of $61 million. If anyone has a concern, he has extensive management experience, as he has managed lawyers and staff for 22 years. As a macro-manager, he loves to delegate, he said. Good leadership is “being honest,” he said, “transparent and being a good listener.”
I asked him about sex trafficking. This is one of four areas he wants to focus on. The other areas are elder abuse, public integrity and school safety. “I’ll be the DA for the entire county,” he said.
Prison overcrowding. This is AB 109, he said, and he pledged to work closely with Sheriff Gore and the prison management.
Immigration. A Federal issue, he said.
Brewer reiterated that “a dedicated DA should not be in politics”, and he told me again that he will not endorse anyone, judges, County supervisors, no one. “If asked for an endorsement,” he said, “I’d have to say no, as I might be investigating them.”
Over the past 12 years he has been on 17 ride-a longs with police officers. He is aware of what they face in the dangerous work they perform. He had good things to say about newly-installed police chief Zimmerman.
Brewer has been endorsed by the CHP, the Police Officer Research Association of California – with 65,000 members, the Probation Officers Association, the San Diego City Attorneys Association, Father Joe Carroll, former California Attorney General John Van de Kamp – a Democrat, former California governor George Deukmajian- a Republican who is 86, and Democrat Donna Frye. Clearly his support is bi-partisan.
We were winding down our interview.
“The bottom line,” Brewer said solemnly, “is that it’s time for a change. 12 years with the same District Attorney is a long, long time. It’s 4 years longer than the President can run this country,” he finished.
We shook hands and parted ways.
Bob Brewer is ready to be the District Attorney for this huge county. He’s as straight as an arrow, but comes across as valuing honesty and integrity very highly. He is a no-nonsense type of guy but definitely with a sense of humor. Here’s his website.
It is a time for a change and San Diego County needs Bob Brewer. The Primary is Tuesday, June 3rd. Vote in a new District Attorney.