This month MCDA would like to introduce you to Assistant District Attorney Bren McMaken. Bren began his journey with our office as an intern in 2017. Upon graduation from the University of Alabama School of Law in 2019, Bren was hired as a prosecutor for our office. When Bren is not at work, church, or spending time with his family you will probably find him throwing a frisbee or shooting hoops! We asked Bren a few questions to get to know him better and to uncover why he works everyday to provide justice for victims of crime!
Charities, community projects, or boards you serve on?
I don’t serve as an active member of any charities or boards, but I am passionate about Goodwill Easter Seals here in Mobile. My sister Michelle is special needs because she was born with Down syndrome. My father was an active member of Goodwill Easter Seals and he helped shape the program to provide for the needs of special needs people in Mobile so that people like my sister would be cared for and be given opportunities. I’ve seen my sister actively participate in their programs for years and the opportunities and experiences she’s been afforded through the program go far beyond what she could have experienced without the efforts of Goodwill Easter Seals.
Has there been anyone who has influenced you personally or professionally?
By far my biggest role model has always been my dad. When I was very young, he would take my sister and me to work and I would sit under the judge’s bench and listen to the cases that would come before him in District Court. I fell in love with the law as a child watching my father hear crazy cases all day long. He was always so level headed and fair and he always did such a good job balancing justice for the victims of crimes and mercy to defendants who were the product of terrible circumstances. When I went to college, started law school, and began my career as a lawyer, I tried to emulate the intelligent, thoughtful, and ethical way he practiced law. I have carried the lessons he taught me as a child with me into my legal career. I will always be grateful for the time I had with him and the impact he had in shaping the man and lawyer I am today.
What is the most important thing in your life?
The single most important thing in my life is my faith in Jesus Christ. In all things, I strive to be a disciple of Jesus and a faithful steward of God’s word. Coming in a close second place would be my wife. Before I am a lawyer, I am a husband to my beautiful wife Allyson. Those two things, my faith, and my marriage go hand in hand as the most important things in my life because as I pour into each of those roles in my life I find that everything else falls into its proper place.
Is there anything else you are passionate about?
There are a number of things I’m passionate about but of the things I haven’t already discussed or alluded to, I would probably pick teaching. In college, I was a teaching assistant for a number of philosophy classes and through a program called the University Fellows Experience, I was able to create and teach a class in the Honors College where I taught rudimentary trial skills. While I was in law school, I served as the coach of the University of Alabama undergraduate Mock Trial Association, the same program I was a competitor for during my time in college. The three years I coached the program were some of the happiest years of my life because I was able to share my knowledge about trial advocacy with a new generation of college students. This summer I have been overjoyed to teach and mentor the office interns I have been supervising in district court. This summer has reminded me about how passionate I am about teaching and sharing the knowledge and skills I’ve learned at this job. Once schools return to a somewhat normal post-covid life, I intend to look around the Mobile community for an opportunity to teach, preferably by working as a coach of one of the local college or high school mock trial programs.
Why did you choose to become a prosecutor for MCDA?
I generally chose to be a prosecutor after my first internship with the office in the summer of 2017. That summer I felt moved by the Lord to pursue a calling as a prosecutor to do two things. The first was to diligently and passionately pursue justice for the victims of crimes. The second was to critically evaluate every case and look for opportunities to show God’s love and mercy to people in a way that can transform and restore their lives. More specifically, I chose to work for the MCDA after the two internships I spent with this office. I saw the passion, drive, and commitment to justice and excellence that was embodied by the hard-working attorneys, trial coordinators, investigators, and every other member of this office. I wanted to work for an office that would push me to be the best and most ethical attorney I could be and I couldn’t think of any group of people better equipped to do that than the staff of the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office.
What motivates you to come to work each day?
More than my father’s influence, the culture of excellence embodied by the people of this office, and even more than the support of my loving wife, my faith in Jesus Christ is what drives and motivates me. I seek to emulate the example set by my savior and to honor His command to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” that He set forth in Matthew 28:19. In all things, I seek to spread the Good News to the four corners of the earth. That motivation informs every decision I make personally and professionally. I seek to show kindness and empathy befitting a child of God to every one of my victims and I aim to carefully examine each of my cases with the integrity and dedication of someone seeking to model biblical living and professionalism to those around me.
What is the most difficult thing about your job?
This might come off like one of those interviews where the prospective employee says their biggest weakness is “caring too much,” but the hardest part of my job is facing the reality that I won’t be able to help and protect everyone. The best example I can think of is my experience as a Mobile Drug Court ADA. The Drug Court program is modeled to help drug addicts overcome their addiction and escape a life of crime that is caused by their addiction. In this program, I want to see people get clean and escape the grasps of life-wrecking drugs. But no matter how hard we try, those of us running the program can’t make these people get clean. The program will only work if these people put the work in themselves. Every time I see someone fail, my heart aches for those people because I know they are mired in a dark place that harms them and the people they love. The sad thing about the criminal justice system is that there are people like that who you cannot save no matter how hard you try. All I can do is work hard not to miss the opportunities I do have to help people when I can.
What is a challenging situation that you have overcome professionally, and how did you handle it?
To be perfectly honest, there are wild and crazy things that happen every day in criminal law. Each day brings a new challenge. I combat almost every one of those challenges in two very similar ways. The first way is that I seek not to rely on my own strength or abilities to solve my problems. I remind myself that I serve a sovereign God whose provision far exceeds my meager abilities. When I rely on His strength I get a lot further than I do when I rely on my strength. The second way is similar in that I rely on the wealth of legal knowledge and life experience I get working in this office. Whether I’m asking a 25+ year veteran like Lars or the “Walking Westlaw” Louis, there is always someone in our office that has faced the problem I’m dealing with and has advice and knowledge to help me through it.
Advice to someone seeking a career with the criminal justice system?
One of the most important things to know about working in criminal law is that the cases are not about you. The worst thing a prosecutor or a defense attorney can do is let their ego get in the way of a case. As a prosecutor your first concern is justice. Your priority should be to see that justice is done for the victims and everyone involved. When you learn to focus on the case and see the correct result reached instead of “winning the case” you’ll be much better for it.
If you could pick one thing to change within our legal system what would it be?
The most honest answer I have to this is that I believe all of our victims, defendants, judges, attorneys, trial coordinators, clerks, officers, and everyone else would benefit greatly from exposure to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe most, if not all, of the problems we see in the world would be rectified or at least alleviated with exposure to the Gospel. On a more practical note, I think the system across our nation would benefit greatly with an injection of passionate, hard-working, justice-focused people like the ones you find in our office. I am lucky to be surrounded by people who take their jobs seriously and commit themselves to seek just and fair outcomes in every case they work on. If that energy and passion were present in every DA’s office and public defender’s office across the country, we’d see far fewer problems with our legal system nationally.
Have you worked on any cases that have changed you in some way?
There have been so many cases that have shaped who I am as a prosecutor that it makes it difficult to choose just one. Since I have to choose one, I’ll give an example that is both recent and old. When I first started working here, I was assigned to Judge Spiro Cheriogotis’s courtroom. My very first week, there was a trial set where a man hit a young girl and a young boy. In comparison to some of the brutal and horrific class A felonies I have had a chance to work on, it might not seem like this was the most serious and significant case on my docket that day. However, to that boy and girl, this case was incredibly serious. They had a number of witnesses who saw the incident that wanted to testify and they weren’t able to be in court that day so we reset the case to get them to court. Long story short, that case ended up getting reset at least half a dozen times between the Defendant not showing up, the Defendant asking time to get a witness, the victims having car trouble, and, of course, covid-19 causing a massive delay in the court system. We didn’t officially try that case until early August of 2020, almost a full year after I first began preparing that case. The victims were so grateful that our office took the time to diligently pursue justice for them for a full year and stay in constant communication with them to make sure they would be in court ready to go. A seemingly small case had massive implications for them because they were able to be heard and see justice found. It was a beautiful reminder to me that every single victim that walks through my courtroom has a story to tell and that they all deserve my attention and dedication to pursue justice on their behalf.
How do you balance your personal and professional life?
This job is very demanding. It requires a lot of time and attention and everyone in my office expends a tremendous amount of energy to do their jobs excellently. The way that I maintain a balance between my personal and professional life is by reminding myself that there really isn’t a “balance.” By that, I mean that there are two aspects of my life that work should never take priority over. First and foremost, I am a son of God put on this earth to bring glory to God and follow his commandments. After that, I am a husband to my beautiful wife Allyson. There should never be a time where I value this job or any job more than I value my status as a son of God and a husband. Keeping my priorities in order has helped me never get overwhelmed by my work. By reminding myself that my true purpose and joy in life comes from above rather than my earthly accomplishments with this office, I have been able to manage the workload and keep everything I do here in the proper perspective. And on a practical note, when things do start to pile up at work, I lean on my coworkers and rely on their strengths to help carry me through the more difficult seasons of work.