Cal. Litig. 2023, Volume 36, Issue 2


Written by Dan Lawton*

Jim Brosnahan grew up as the only child of parents who raised him in a two-bedroom apartment in Brookline, Massachusetts, during the 1930s and 1940s. His father, a bookkeeper, earned five dollars a week. When Brosnahan was two-and-a-half years old, a doctor diagnosed him with rheumatic fever and a possible heart ailment. The doctor ordered the boy confined to bed, lest he move around and be stricken with heart failure. Except for occasional visits to the living room, the boy stayed in bed for the next two-and-half years until he was six years old. His knowledge of the world came from listening to Jack Benny and serials on a transistor radio with his dad after he arrived home from work in the evenings and from peering out a window at kids playing in a nearby driveway. At age six, when he was allowed to leave his bed at last, Brosnahan attended the first grade. He didn’t know how to read. Four years later, he would be made to repeat the fourth grade, and re-read the Baltimore Catechism under the hawkish gaze of the teacher, a Catholic nun. The boy prayed daily that God would let him leave her behind someday.

Today, at age 89, Jim Brosnahan is the greatest trial lawyer of his generation. He has tried 150 jury trials and belongs to the California Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame. He has worked both as a federal prosecutor and in the private bar, in a small law firm and a huge one (Morrison & Foerster). As a special prosecutor, he was chosen to prosecute former secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger during the Iran-Contra affair. At another time, he defended John Walker Lindh, the so-called "Johnny Jihad" whom our government deemed an enemy combatant after capturing him on a battlefield in Afghanistan. He has devoted thousands of hours of time to pro bono work, and is the author of the Trial Handbook for California Lawyers, the best book of its kind.

Brosnahan’s new memoir, "Justice At Trial: Courtroom Battles and Groundbreaking Cases" (Rowman & Littlefield 2023), recounts his courtroom triumphs, which are many, his defeats, which are few, and his remarkable life.

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