Robert Brewer kicks off his district attorney campaign at the home of Craig Irving, president of The Irving Group. / Photo by Sam Hodgson

Defense attorney Bob Brewer, who once sought to be the county’s top prosecutor, is the Trump administration’s pick to serve as the U.S. attorney overseeing federal prosecutors in San Diego and Imperial counties.

The White House announced Wednesday that it was recommending that the veteran attorney and onetime prosecutor replace Adam Braverman, who has served as interim U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California, the federal court that covers San Diego, since November.

Brewer, a former assistant U.S. attorney who served a seven-year stint as a prosecutor before moving into private practice in 1982, now must win the approval of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the U.S. Senate before taking the post.

Most recently, Brewer has focused on civil and white-collar defense cases at San Diego-based law firm Seltzer Caplan McMahon Vitek.

If Brewer secures confirmation, he’ll step into a role at the center of several volatile issues.

San Diego’s federal courts are experiencing chaos as a result of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ zero-tolerance policy at the U.S.-Mexico border, under which prosecutors are charging anyone caught crossing the border illegally with crimes, instead of handing them off to immigration officials, as they had in the past. Things could get even more hectic now that the federal government plans to implement Operation Streamline in San Diego, a federal program that fast-tracks those prosecutions and can include mass trials.

Brewer could also be forced to deal with continuing uncertainty resulting from the conflict between California’s recent legalization of marijuana, and the federal government’s classification of marijuana as an illegal controlled substance.

Brewer did not immediately return a message from Voice of San Diego on Wednesday.

He’s had a long legal career, but not tons of prosecutorial experience.

Brewer, a Vietnam War veteran, has said a former special operation officer he worked with as a Army Ranger encouraged him to consider a legal career.

He went for it and has worked as an attorney for four decades.

The University of San Diego law school graduate began his career as a prosecutor, first as a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles and an eventually as an assistant chief in the criminal division of the U.S. attorney’s office for the Central District of California, which covers Los Angeles.

In an interview with the Union-Tribune in 2014, Brewer estimated he worked 65 jury trials including a high-profile murder-for-hire and the prosecution of a Polish intelligence officer convicted of espionage.

But his career as a prosecutor was short-lived. After seven years, Brewer moved back to San Diego and began working in private practice with a focus on civil and white-collar cases. In 1987, he co-founded his own firm. He went on to serve as a managing partner for two other law firms. His clients included Radio Shack, Sempra and Boeing.

More than a decade before he ran for district attorney, Brewer battled non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a diagnosis his doctor believed resulted from exposure to Agent Orange during his time in Vietnam. He once told CityBeat that experience gave him greater insight on the use of medical marijuana, though he opted not to try it.

In November 2015, he joined defense firm Seltzer Caplan McMahon Vitek.

Brewer is married to retired U.S. District Court Judge Irma Gonzalez.

As an attorney for Sempra, he tangled with the man at the center of the big campaign finance scandal.

When news broke in 2014 that a Mexican businessman had illegally donated money to local politicians’ campaigns, an obvious question surfaced: What was he trying to achieve?

The closest we got to an answer was José Susumo Azano Matsura’s long-running feud with Sempra, the San Diego energy giant.

Long before he made the illegal donations, Azano had gotten involved in a lawsuit in Mexico involving a rancher who claimed Sempra had stolen land from him in order to build a natural gas plant. Azano agreed to help finance the case in exchange for some of the potential winnings.

Brewer was one of Sempra’s top attorneys in that case, and he not only defended the company against corruption allegations in that suit but helped successfully persuade federal investigators to flip the script and look into Azano instead.

From Liam Dillon’s 2015 investigation into Azano:

Sempra’s attorneys told agents that Azano had arranged and paid for an armed police raid on the company’s Baja California plant less than a week earlier, according to an FBI summary of the meeting. Sempra believed Azano was trying to extort the company out of hundreds of millions of dollars.

“We wanted to make sure the FBI knew he was involved,” said Bob Brewer, then an attorney representing Sempra who was at the meeting.

This plea to the feds was just one flashpoint in a long-burning feud between Azano and Sempra.

He challenged Bonnie Dumanis for the district attorney post in 2014, and lost.

Brewer ran for district attorney in 2014, pledging to take politics out of the office.

Those pledges – and then-District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis’ political endorsements and politicking amid an earlier run for mayor – helped Brewer amass key law enforcement endorsements.

Political insiders dubbed Brewer a serious challenger. He pulled in substantial cash and hired a seasoned political consultant.

He caught some scrutiny in the weeks before the election when his wife gave $10,000 to an independent expenditure committee supporting Brewer despite election laws barring coordination between candidates and independent committees.

At the time, Gonzalez told the Union-Tribune she had not talked to Brewer about the donation.

Dumanis ultimately won outright in the June 2014 primary. Brewer nabbed about a third of the vote.

The loss led Brewer back to his day job as a defense attorney.

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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