U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J.
Brennan Jr. was dubbed “probably the
most influential” justice of the last century
by no less an authority than fellow justice,
and political foe, Antonin Scalia.
But to Bob Brennan he was Uncle Bill.
“He was just the smartest guy in the
room,” recalls Brennan, who practices
consumer rights law in La Crescenta. “It
was like he was the sun and the planets
were revolving around him. … The man just
had an incredible presence.”
Justice Brennan had seven siblings,
including one who died in World War II,
and all were highly accomplished, Brennan
says. “But obviously, the all-star here was
Bob’s father, Frank Brennan, general
counsel for E.&J. Gallo Winery for many
years, tried to steer his son toward the law,
but Bob resisted. Instead, after majoring in
English, he worked in San Francisco as a
paralegal and a comedy writer.
“This is circa 1982-1983, so I’m sure that
a lot of my jokes had to do with Ronald
Reagan.” Eventually, economic reality—
and long talks with his father—redirected
Brennan to law school, where he was in for
“I found out that I really enjoyed
practicing law,” he says. “I had a skill set
that was well-suited.”
Litigation, in particular, interested him,
but an incident inspired him to narrow his
focus. While working as a summer associate,
Brennan rented a room that already had an
occupant. Brennan notified the landlord,
canceled and moved out. Two years later,
he discovered the landlord put negative
information on his credit report.
“It made me upset, and piqued my
interest in credit reporting cases,” he says.
“I started doing lemon law. Then I started
Fair Credit Reporting Act cases … consumer
financial- and consumer goods-type cases. I
Brennan has just finished trying a case
for a client who had his identity stolen
by a man who bought three cars using
his victim’s credit. The client struggled
to clear his name and managed to do so
with all but one creditor—BMW Financial.
Brennan landed a Fair Credit Reporting
Act and identity theft verdict of $430,000.
In addition to that, the judge awarded
attorney’s fees of approximately $280,000.
“The one thing I think I see on a regular
“I got to meet 20 to 30 of his clerks,”
basis that other people don’t see is the
effect that some of these consumer-abuse
situations can have on individuals,” Brennan
says. “It can be really, really devastating.”
His uncle, who passed away in 1997,
would no doubt have approved. The year
before Justice Brennan’s death, his nephew
attended his 90th birthday party.
Brennan recalls. “Everyone referred to him as
Yoda: this little guy who had more wisdom
and power than anyone else on the planet.
ROBERT F. BRENNAN TALKS ABOUT CONSUMER LAW ... AND UNCLE WILLIAM J. BRENNAN JR.
BY BETH TAYLOR
They all talked about how much fun it was to
How often does a law student have a relative speak at their graduation ceremony? Bob (middle
work with him, how decent a human being
Brennan was known for getting along
with everyone—with one notable exception.
“My uncle had his differences with Justice
[Warren E.] Burger,” says Brennan. “Dick
Nixon wanted to get rid of William J.
Brennan, and so Justice Burger became the
person assigned to giving Justice Brennan
Brennan’s first wife, Marjorie, was in the
hospital with cancer, for example, ”and
my uncle wanted to visit her as often as
possible. Chief Justice Burger got wind of
that, and he would continuously give my
uncle assignments that would interfere
with my uncle’s free ability to [do so]. ...
This is probably coming from Nixon—that
Burger was trying to pressure my Uncle Bill
to resign—but my Uncle Bill refused. He
took on whatever additional assignments
That was the anomaly, though. “In
terms of the modern political and judicial
landscape where judges are disagreeing
with each other all the time,” Brennan says,
“Justice Brennan literally stands alone.”
right), with his uncle, the man affectionately called “Yoda” by his law clerks, in 1987.