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Ken Brown turned his passion for the law into a thriving career, in which he currently serves as an administrative judge to in Salt Lake County.
After hearing 50,000 court cases—and just about every excuse in the book—you’d expect a judge with even the sunniest disposition to become at least a little cynical. But not Ken Brown. Currently serving as an administrative law judge in Utah, Brown made up his mind early on that he’d maintain his sense of compassion, a positive attitude and an open mind no matter what came his way.
“After years and years of hearing cases, it’s not uncommon for judges over time to become quite jaded,” he says. “One of my goals was never to let myself get that way.” And after more than a decade in the profession, he’s kept that promise to himself, a task made simpler by the fact that he has found his true calling—and genuine fulfillment—in the law.
An improbable career path
Brown is an unlikely judge. He never attended law school, and he doesn’t hold a Juris Doctorate. In fact, he started his career in real estate, working as an agent before getting into property management. “After a few years, I decided I was going to go out on my own,” he says. “I became a principle broker back in 1987.”
The next year, he enrolled at University of Phoenix to earn his bachelor’s degree, something he’d attempted in fits and starts at the local university since he graduated from high school. As a young husband and father, he was determined to achieve his goal of graduating from college. He worked hard and stuck with it despite the demands of his family and career, earning his Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Management in 1991.
For the next several years, he focused on making his real estate business successful, managing residential, commercial and multi-family units, as well as consulting for homeowner’s associations. Though he made a good living for himself and his growing family, he just wasn’t excited about it. “I did pretty well, but I never loved it,” he says candidly.
However, his real estate career served him well in another regard: It opened his eyes to his passion for the law. Brown remembered his father trying to convince him to become an attorney when he was in high school. “It was the last thing on earth I wanted to do then, and it wasn’t until years later that I realized I kind of had an aptitude for it,” he admits. “Part of my company was legal consulting, and I did a lot of evictions for [my clients]."
Pursuing his passion
Drawn to a career in law, Brown began to explore opportunities in the field. While he didn’t feel law school wasn’t a realistic option for him at that stage in his life, he realized that he could pursue other avenues to get his foot in the door. His first step was becoming a police officer to gain experience in law enforcement with the ultimate goal of working as a judge in Utah, where a Juris Doctor isn’t a prerequisite for a seat on the bench in municipal court.
Over the next year and a half, he worked as a police officer, making valuable contacts and working toward his goal of becoming a judge at the justice court level. In 2001, he was appointed to the bench in the West Valley City Justice Court in Utah. There, he worked side-by-side with the presiding judge to build a new court from the ground up, including setting up the court and hiring new clerks.
“When I was appointed to the bench, it didn’t take me long to realize that I had found my calling in life,” he says, smiling.
At the West Valley City Justice Court, Brown wore two hats. First, he was an administrative judge. “An administrative judge handles all cases that a city would pursue against the public,” he explains, which includes violations against fire and other city codes.
He also served as traffic commissioner. “I became an expert in traffic law and accident reconstruction,” he says. “I just loved it. My favorite part was hearing an accident case, sifting through evidence and determining whether the parties got it right or wrong. It was like a puzzle.”
Over the years, he heard tens of thousands of cases. “Every case I tried, I treated [the defendants] like it was the first time I had ever heard [their type of case],” he says of his commitment to approaching his work with impartiality and empathy.
In 2003, Brown decided to continue his education. He went on to earn a Master’s of Justice Administration/Law degree from Norwich University, and says his University of Phoenix education bolstered him throughout his career. “As a judge, I’m constantly writing orders,” he says. “Learning how to write was probably the most important thing I gained from my [University of Phoenix] experience, as well as how to organize myself in a way where I could see what I had to do, make a plan and do it.”
Today, Brown continues to work as an administrative law judge, adjudicating formal property tax appeals in Salt Lake County and formal administrative hearings for municipal code violations in Saratoga Springs. His law career has been extremely. “I feel extremely fortunate to be able to do what I have done for so many years,” he says.
An eye on the future
Though he is only 56, Brown has accomplished a lot in his life so far. He is a father of five, a grandfather of seven and a bodybuilder. As he looks ahead to the future, he hopes to remain on the bench doing what he is passionate about. “It’s where my love is—it’s what I’m good at,” he says of his serendipitous career in law. “People who aim high will achieve a lot of great and satisfying things in their lives and look back and say, ‘You know, I’m glad I did that.’”