By Chris Jennings
The Choctaw people have a long history of a well-established legal system. Continuing in that tradition is Midwest City’s own, Judge Ada Brown, great-granddaughter of original enrollee Edward P. Snead.
Judge Brown was recently nominated by President Donald Trump to be a United States District Court Judge for the Northern District of Texas. The nomination makes Brown the first female African-American federal judge nominated by President Trump and confirmed by Senate.
Judge Brown said, “When I became a judge, I felt like I was part of that family history. It begins with my great- grandfather’s uncle who was a Choctaw Lighthorseman, and then my grandfather, who was a court reporter for a district court judge. His child, [Brown’s great-uncle] became a district court judge.”
With memories of hearing about court cases from her great-uncle and with a such a family presence in service to the law, Judge Brown largely forged her own path.
She attended Spelman College, where she received her Bachelor of Arts, magna cum laude, and her Juris Doctor from Emory University School of Law on a Presidential Scholarship.
Judge Brown’s first appointment to a judgeship made her the youngest sitting judge in Texas. In her case, though, her experience prior to that far outweighed any misgivings her young age might have presented.
After graduating from Emory, she became an Assistant District Attorney in Dallas, Texas, where she specialized in prosecuting felony internet crimes against children and tried over 100 jury trials as lead prosecutor. Then she served as a trial judge in Dallas County Criminal Court.
From there, Judge Brown transitioned to a civil career with McKool Smith in Dallas, where she specialized in prominent commercial litigation and patent infringement cases.
Judge Brown was appointed by Texas Governor Rick Perry to serve as Commissioner for the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, and later as a Commissioner for the Texas Department of Public Safety.
When she left those posts to become an appellate court judge, Perry awarded her the Yellow Rose of Texas Award, reflecting the tremendous job she did in those positions. She was also made an honorary Captain of the Texas Rangers.
In 2013, Brown was appointed to the Fifth Court of Appeals of Texas. There, she was the highest rated justice on her appellate court in four of the five areas of evaluation in a 2019 Dallas Bar poll. Judge Brown says her main goal as a judge is, “Whatever happens at the end of the day, the person who’s accused feels like the referee was fair.”
With a long list of experience at such an early age one might think Judge Brown knew her destiny from the beginning, but that was not the case.
It was at Spelman that Judge Brown discovered her passion for law. Enrolled as a biology student, she took a Women in Law class on a whim, and this is where she realized she had found her calling.
“Mainly what attracted me to it was that you spoke for others. That you took on the burden for someone who was either a victim or a client, and you listened to their story,” said Judge Brown.
Judge Brown does not take the responsibility lightly. “You’re determining whether or not they’re going to go to jail at the end of the day, so you just hope that your ears hear the truth and that you balance the need to protect society with the need for compassion when it’s appropriate,” said Judge Brown.
She continued, “I remember the first time I put on my robe, and I walked up the steps, and the judge sits higher than everyone else. You open up the door and the bailiff calls, and all of a sudden people stand up for you. You’re very aware of your responsibilities.”
Responsibilities that Judge Brown began learning as a young woman when she was elected Student Body President, a position she says was her first real leadership position. This is where she learned that you cannot do anything alone.
Knowing that her position could inspire young Choctaw men and women who are interested in law, Judge Brown encourages them to follow in her footsteps. Get involved in school and school politics. “Learn to become a leader. It’s a learned skill, like anything else…great leadership takes great practice,” said Judge Brown.
Even if you have a natural talent, Judge Brown is adamant that you still have to practice in order to be your best. God gives everybody a little special talent. Some people are meant to be judges and some people are meant to be artists. “Whatever it is that you’re supposed to do, do that with excellence and make your tribe proud,” said Judge Brown.
Beginning with the Choctaw Lighthorseman and up to present times with her service as a federal judge, Judge Brown is proud of her family’s history. She does not take it for granted though; she feels it is important to stay grounded and humble.
Helping to remind her of that goal of humility is a bust of Marie Antoinette in her office. Just like a federal judge, the young French queen had what should have been a lifetime appointment, but she ended up losing her head due to some poor decisions.
Judge Brown is determined to keep her head and her lifetime appointment by being smart, just and fair with all who stand before her.