Each day, a number of young people enter the courtroom of Circuit Judge Earnest Brown, Jr. Some are there by their own doing. Others because of unfortunate family situations such as custody battles and unfit parenting.
Presiding over the juvenile division of the Jefferson-Lincoln County Circuit Court in Pine Bluff, Brown makes tough decisions geared toward the child’s best interest.
Had Brown stuck with his initial plans, he would have been working in Washington, D.C., perhaps with the U.S. Small Business Administration. He set the stage by graduating from the Sam M. Walton College of Business with a public administration degree followed by a Juris Doctor from the University of Arkansas School of Law.
Brown’s planned career path took a detour when a friend suggested he apply for a deputy prosecuting attorney job. The decision was life-changing. He found his calling in Pine Bluff–a place where he had no family or connections.
In short, he got the job.
“I am a person who definitely believes God’s providential nature that it was His will that I be here,” Brown says. “In my will, I thought I was going to be in Washington, D.C.”
Participating in a court system that impacts the lives of children and families made a deep impression with him. It eventually led him to run for office in 2008, and he was elected to a six-year judgeship position.
As one of Arkansas’ approximately 120 circuit judges, Brown’s caseloads include delinquency, truancy and dependency neglect involving minors. While not every case has a happy ending, many do with children and families following guidelines set by Brown as they rebuild their lives.
Brown grew up in the small southwest Arkansas town of Fulton and attended public school in nearby Hope. His father, a railroad worker, and his mother, a bank teller, encouraged him and his siblings to get college educations. His father’s entrepreneurial spirit–he did a little vegetable farming on the side–inspired the younger Brown to earn a business degree. “I always had an interest in having my own business, being able to do that and be my own boss, and I thought a business degree would give me that,” he says.
Brown says his Walton College education has been applied toward managing finances and his employees in the different jobs he has held. Those jobs include a private law practice, serving as Arkansas state representative, assistant speaker pro-tem for the 4th District and various legislative committees.
And Pine Bluff is no longer a place without family. Since arriving in the city in the 1990s, he married his wife, Tina, and they are the parents of three children.
Brown also remains active with the University of Arkansas, including the Walton College Alumni Society Board of Directors, and is a cheerleader for future alums. “There are some bright, bright students at the Walton College, and it makes me very optimistic for our future,” he says.
The same goes for the many of those in his courtroom, where Brown continues to make difficult decisions with the goal of effecting positive change. “I look at it as a challenge that keeps me motivated, geared up and ready to go,” he says.