Dan Brenner: An Appreciation 

by on February 16, 2016 · 6 comments

Dan BrennerI was shocked and saddened to hear tonight that L.A. Superior Court Judge Dan Brenner was struck and killed in Los Angeles yesterday. I am just sick about it. He was a great man and good friend.

Dan was an outstanding legal mind who, before moving back out to California to become a judge in 2012, made a big impact here in DC while serving as a legal advisor to FCC chairman Mark Fowler in the 1980s. He went on to have a distinguished career as head of legal affairs at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. He also served as an adjunct law professor in major law schools and wrote important essays and textbooks on media and broadband law.

More than all that, Dan Brenner was a dear friend to a great many people, and he was always the guy with the biggest smile on his face in any room he walked into. Dan had an absolutely infectious spirit; his amazing wit and wisdom inspired everyone around him. I never heard a single person say a bad word about Dan Brenner. Even people on the opposite side of any negotiating table from him respected and admired him. That’s pretty damn rare in a town like Washington, DC.

And Dan was a great friend to me. We met in the early 1990s when I was still just a pup in telecom and media circles. I was wet behind the ears, but Dan always had time for my silly questions. He helped bring me up to speed on a great many issues. But more than that, he always inquired about how I was doing personally. He took an active interest in getting to know people at more than just a professional level.

We became good friends and saw each other regularly after that, so much so that Dan once asked me to read the first draft of an autobiography he began writing! It was filled with hilarious stories about a life in the television policy world. True story: Dan began his book with a story about the amazing (and sometime scary) power of television. He noted that one of his first memories in life was watching an episode of Adventures of Superman in the 1950s and then also seeing a commercial for Clorox during the show. He said at that point for some reason he thought he might be able to become Superman and fly if he took a swig of Clorox from his mom’s laundry room! He did it and ended up in the emergency room. His punch line to the story: “I should have known the broadcasters had it in for me from a young age!” That was the kind of sense of humor Dan had. He always had a line. He made the sometimes stodgy world of telecom policy damn fun.

I sought out Dan’s advice on a great many things through the years and he was always a comforting voice of patience and wisdom. Much later in our friendship, after he had left NCTA and moved on to be a private counsel in Hogan Lovells, I called Dan with a big problem in 2010. The organization I was running at the time (Progress & Freedom Foundation) was failing and the writing was on the wall that our days were numbered. I was in the absolutely miserable position of having to shut down an organization I cared about deeply but I wanted to do so with dignity. But to do so, I needed some legal help to handle that transition and take care all the organization’s remaining obligations. Dan offered to do it all pro bono. I didn’t even have to ask. He just came right out and said he was going to do it for me and the few remaining staff and board members who stuck around to help me out. He took every call we made to him and helped handle even the smallest details as I steered that ship to the bottom of the ocean.

Dan’s advice to me at that time was indispensable. But the legal advice wasn’t the most important thing he offered me at the time. He knew I was miserable. It was an absolutely horrible moment in my life and Dan could see it. He took an active role in cheering me up and reminding me that brighter days would be ahead. He insisted that after the whole ordeal was over that I should keep a small amount of the remaining money to pay myself a final check (I didn’t get paid at all for the final months on the job) and take a long vacation. I didn’t do it, but he kept insisting how important it was to take care of myself and keep my spirits up.

After a few awful months of dealing with the building landlord and various bill collectors, my life was in shambles, but Dan stuck through with me till the end and helped keep me sane. I took him out for a huge steak lunch one day after it was all finally over and told him that never in my life had someone been so gracious and generous with their time and attention as he was during that extraordinarily difficult period in my life. He just flashed his classic big smile and said, “Ah, it was really nothin’, Adam.”

But it was. But it was. It meant everything to me at the time and I consider myself blessed to have had a friend like Dan Brenner who was always there for me and others like that.

You will be missed, my friend.

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