Judge Charles Richards BrownJudge Charles Richards Brown was born 4 December 1836 in Columbia Township, Lorain County, Ohio to Charles & Delia Marie (Richards) Brown.  He apprenticed himself to a railroad lawyer in Elyria, Ohio following his studies at  Baldwin Wallace University (then called Baldwin University).  He was admitted to the Ohio Bar in 1855.[1]

His first residence in Michigan was at St Joseph in Berrien County, where from 1860 to 1867 he was that county’s Prosecuting Attorney.  He was elected to the Michigan State Legislature in 1867 for a term of two years.[2]

In 1870, Judge Brown was appointed to complete the 9th Circuit Court term from which Judge Flavius J Littlejohn had resigned in 1869.  He served on the bench of that Circuit until 1876, though Allegan County moved to the newly established 20th Circuit in 1873.[3]

“Probably the most interesting cause ever tried at Kalamazoo was the celebrated Vanderpool murder case, before Judge Brown which commenced on the 19th of October and ended on the 21st of November 1870. It was the most noted trial in the history of Western Michigan, and produced an immense amount of excitement during the twenty-seven days of its continuance.  George Vanderpool was arrested and tried at Manistee, (MI) in the spring of 1870, for the murder of Herbert Field. The jury found him guilty, and he was sentenced to the penitentiary for the term of his natural life. The murder of Field occurred on the 5th of September, 1869.  The case was taken up on the 19th day of October and continued for a period of twenty-seven days, creating intense interest as it progressed to the final close on the 21st of November. The jury was unable to agree, standing seven to five for conviction and the case was tried a third time at Hastings, in Barry County, (MI) and the jury rendered a verdict of acquittal.”[4]

Judge Charles Brown's Michigan Nisi Prius Report (1870)Judge Brown sought to see decision-making at the Circuit Court level brought under greater control – such as had become the case with the federal courts being bound to precedent established by the Supreme Court.  To this end, he published in 1870 The Michigan Nisi Prius Report, a compendium of circuit court cases having been decided in Michigan circuit courts…

“from a firm conviction that it will be of interest and benefit to the Bench and Bar, and will tend to produce a greater uniformity in practice, in the several Circuits…. inasmuch as comparatively few of the many questions arising at the Circuit ever go to the Supreme Court – these reports may be of value to the Bar.”[5]

He authored two such volumes during his tenure on the 9th Circuit bench.[6]

From 1876 to 1881, Judge Brown practiced law in Port Huron, St Clair County.  He spent the next eight years practicing law in St. Ignace and Munising in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  On 21 December 1917, he departed this life at Cheboygan, Michigan [7], being remembered thus:

“As a practitioner, he took rank as one of the ablest men of the bar of the Upper Peninsula of MI, his practice extending into all the circuits of the Peninsula. It is the universal testimony of the bar that he possessed a splendid legal mind, and to and unusual degree the power of clear logical statement.  His success as a practitioner came from a combination of eloquence and sound logical judgement, for he was a clear and forceful speaker as well as a keen logical thinker.  Judge Brown was a man of impressive character, inspiring regard, trust and admiration. He was a genial, natural, approachable and kind. There will always remain in the memory of his fellow men the kindness of his hand. There was a charm to this genial and courtly gentleman such as belongs only to a good, noble and beautiful nature. Such a character was made to be admired. His life represents a long period of faithful and distinguished service in the performance of which he became widely known as a man of great ability.  The love of study became a ruling passion in his earliest youth and throughout his life he devoted himself to broad study. He took a deep interest in psychological and philosophical studies. He was also an active and zealous worker in the Methodist Episcopal Church.”[8]


  1. Memorium presented by a committee of the Marquette County Bar Association.
  2. Henry Franklin Thomas, A Twentieth Century History of Allegan County, Michigan (Allegan: Lewis Publishing Co, 1907), 548.
  3. Ibid.
  4. History of Kalamazoo County, Michigan with illustrations and biographical sketches: Its Prominent Men and Pioneers (Philadelphia: Everts & Abott, 1880), 106-107
  5. Charles R Brown, The Michigan Nisi Prius Report: Reports of Cases Tried and Determined at Nisi Prius, in the Circuit Courts of the State of Michigan (Kalamazoo: Telegraph Printing Company Book-Office, 1870), preface.
  6. Memorium presented by a committee of the Marquette County Bar Association.
  7. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=54203634
  8. Memorium presented by a committee of the Marquette County Bar Association.

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