And justice for all
Prosecutor reflects on early career, new job
As a young child growing up in Ironton, Brigham Anderson heard the stories of how his great-grandfather ushered in a new era for the city, combating vice in the 1950s.
It was the kind of stuff crime novels were made of and it all began about five hours and 45 minutes after Carl Rose was sworn in as Lawrence County Sheriff, along with Harold Spears as county prosecutor.
Anderson’s great-grandmother, Beatrice Rose, recalled how her husband and Spears served their first search warrant that very night, which resulted in the seizure of 155 dismantled slot machines.
Beatrice also recalled the infamous jailbreak of 1966 when Ironton Police Chief Gene Markel was shot and killed.
Although Anderson never met his great-grandfather — the man passed away a few weeks after he was born — he said those stories shaped his future.
And 60 years to the day that Rose was sworn into office, Anderson, 33, took office as Lawrence County Prosecutor.
Not only coming from a law enforcement background, Anderson’s father and uncle, Mack and Bob Anderson, were both attorneys in practice together.
“My whole life, my father has been an attorney,” Anderson said. “He has been an assistant prosecutor since 1993, so I’ve been around this office and his office. It was always something I aspired to do.”
And he didn’t waste any time getting there.
After earning his bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in human resources management from Ohio University in Athens, Anderson followed in his father and uncle’s footsteps and attended law school at Ohio Northern University.
He graduated in May 2004 and by August, Anderson was taking cases as Lawrence County’s newest assistant prosecuting attorney under Prosecutor J.B. Collier Jr.
Looking back on his first years in the office, Anderson said he felt blessed to be under the tutelage of so many experience attorneys.
“My father, my uncle. Judge (Charles) Cooper was in here when I started,” Anderson recalled. “J.B., Kevin Waldo, Jeff Smith. All of them have really been good to help me along and teach me to get me to this stage.”
Now Presiding Common Pleas Judge, Charles Cooper said he remembered JB Collier Jr. didn’t cut Anderson any slack as a new attorney.
“If he brought the case up and it had to go to trial, he tried the case,” Cooper said. “And I think he tried a case within the first month that he was down there. From that, my observation of Brigham was he wasn’t afraid of the tough cases or the serious cases. He has always understood that no attorney wins every single case that they take to court. If you do, you’re not trying enough cases, is the law school expression. He jumped right in, he took the tough cases, and of course that was eight years ago.”
Mack Anderson said he remembered his son’s first trial.
“J.B. said ‘I want you to start right out,’ and J.B. sat in the trial with him and Brigham tried the whole case and won, and did a good job and just went on from there,” Mack said. “He’s not afraid to try cases and I think he tries to be fair and that’s what you have to be as a prosecutor. It’s not just a matter of getting convictions. It’s about doing what is just.”
Anderson also worked part-time, and still does, at the family civil practice firm, Anderson and Anderson, but prosecuting criminals was always his ultimate goal.
“The job that I’m doing now was my aspiration in the beginning because prosecuting criminals is what I enjoy most,” Anderson said. “It’s still the highlight of my job. I enjoy the civil practice as well. This has more rewarding qualities to it.”
During his time as assistant prosecutor, Anderson tried a variety of cases, many of which left a lasting impression on him, as well as the community.
Anderson was lead prosecutor for Megan Goff’s second trial in August 2011 after the Ohio Supreme Court overturned her first conviction of aggravated murder.
“That was my first murder trial I was fully responsible for,” Anderson recalled. “I had been in other murder trials as second chair with J.B., but that trial was extensive. It lasted two weeks. I spent another two weeks preparing for the trial because it had volumes of information and it was a long process.”
Goff was found guilty of murdering her estranged husband and sentenced to life in prison with parole eligibility after 18 years.
More recently, Anderson prosecuted the case against a 69-year-old Proctorville man accused of raping three of his nieces.
“That was a case where the victims were victimized over an extensive period of time that dates back to 1993,” Anderson said. “They have really lived horrible lives of abuse and we prepared that case and indicted him with 51 counts of rape.”
The man, Don Copley, pleaded guilty before the trial began, and was sentenced to 60 years in prison.
“To see the look on those three ladies’ faces when he was sentenced to life imprisonment, it really shows the system works, and that the system can work and it was a true testament to getting a just result for people who have been victimized,” Anderson said.
And justice in every case in something Anderson said he would strive for as Lawrence County Prosecutor.
“My job is not necessarily to obtain a conviction in every case,” Anderson said. “My job is to make sure that guilty people are put in prison, but the other responsibility is to make sure innocent people aren’t. The role of the prosecutor is to find what justice is. What is the truth? You have to keep an open mind when you go into criminal prosecutions to do that.”
Anderson admitted he has some large shoes to fill as prosecutor, following Collier, who served five four-year terms. But that he would work to review as many cases as possible that come through his office and be directly involved all major cases.
“For criminals and people who are going to engage in drug activity, in violent crime, in home break-ins, we are going to come with all that we have in both the prosecution and on requesting high sentences,” Anderson said. “My office will take criminal matters very seriously and will prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law and we will request the court, if they are found guilty, to impose maximum penalties on violent offenders and home invaders and the like. I think that we’ve done that over the past several years and we will continue to do that.”