Lessons in Law
On any given evening, you might find Michael Mosman (JD ’84) helping new neighbors unload their moving van. During the day, he is the federal judge of the district of Oregon, but Mosman enjoys the normalcy. He says, “When you’ve just moved in you don’t know that, out of the guys there, one of them is a dentist, one of them is a judge, and one is a retired surgeon. They’re just guys in jeans helping you on a rainy night unload your truck.” But learning to serve others and becoming federal judge didn’t just happen. From his childhood in a middle-of-nowhere Idaho town, to a father, husband, and federal servant, Mosman has learned many lessons along the way. And as with all lessons, he says, they came “not without some cost to learn them.”
“I tell people if you’ve seen the movie Sandlot then you’ve seen my childhood,” says Mosman of his upbringing in small-town Lewiston, Idaho. Though his father was an attorney, when Mosman attended Ricks College and Utah State University years later, he pursued a degree in philosophy. By his senior year he was already taking some graduate courses in clinical psychology but recalls “I could just tell that I didn’t think it was for me.” That realization eventually led him to BYU’s law school to follow in his father’s footsteps. Mosman jokes, “Let me just remind you that when I was in law school the two BYU quarterbacks were Jim McMahon and Steve Young. So it’s fair to say I was in the golden era of BYU football.”
Mosman’s law career has taken him to various places, including Washington, D.C., where he clerked for the D.C. court of appeals and for Supreme Court justice Lewis F. Powell. By that time, he and his wife, Susan Hogan, already had three children. “I was a bit of an oddity among my peers at both jobs,” Mosman says. On Saturdays, when things were less formal, Mosman would bring his kids into the Supreme Court, and they would make friends with his colleagues. When they left D.C., the family moved to Oregon. Mosman practiced privately for two years before becoming Federal prosecutor for the District of Oregon. After twelve years in that role, he was appointed by President George W. Bush to be the United States Attorney for Oregon, and he later became a federal judge in the same district. Today he is the chief judge.
Contrary to what people might think, Judge Mosman believes that “you don’t have to be an angry, aggressive, or combative person to be a lawyer.” He says that you must, however, be prepared to engage in some conflict. One of the questions that used to weigh on him was, “If I am a person who engages in conflict for my career, can I be a disciple?” After reading the scriptures and examining examples of righteous people he says, “I am confident the answer is yes.” He goes on to explain, “When Jesus blessed the peacemakers, he wasn’t intending to eliminate people who necessarily have to stand up for things.”
An analytical man, Mosman often takes commonly asked questions and examines them in a different light, including the phrase, “What would Jesus do?” He says, “That question ends up not being helpful because Jesus would do the things he trained, practiced, and prepared himself to do.” He explains, “So, if in the moment you say to yourself, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m in this incredibly stressful situation, what would Jesus do?’ that won’t help you much because you’re going to do what you’ve prepared to do.” Using an analogy, he says, “It’s sort of like a new basketball player saying, ‘What would Steph Curry or Michael Jordan do in this moment in the game?’ It’s nice to know but you’re incapable of doing it unless you’ve prepared for it. Instead it’s better think about how to prepare to do what Jesus did.”
But even with preparation, Mosman has had his share of failures. After losing important cases he has stayed awake at night for days, months, and even years afterwards thinking, “how could I have won that?” But outside the courtroom, he faces disappointments and regrets in relationships with family and friends, too. He says, “sometimes I envy people who have no regrets, but I guess I shouldn’t because I feel like it’s made me a better person to have the regrets that I have. I’ve really been forced to confront my weaknesses, sins, and recurring defects.”
Mosman recognizes that although exciting career moments like a verdict or a sentencing can feel monumental at the time, his life’s most important moments have been spent with his children. “The greatest moments so far have been teaching them to read, teaching them how to ride a bike, and how to swim,” says Mosman. “I would run alongside their bike holding the back of the seat. They were confident I’d be there. Then there would be a point where I knew they could balance by themselves, but they didn’t believe it yet. So I would continue running until, unbeknownst to them, I would let go of the rear end of the bike seat.” Mosman recalls the look of shock and joy on his kids’ face when he told them they’d done it all on their own. “It’s just a beautiful moment,” says Mosman.
Such moments are important in keeping Mosman grounded. He admits that “one of the occupational hazards of being a judge is an inflated ego and arrogance.” But unlike many who hold this position, Mosman tries to “[place] zero importance on [his] professional status.” He says, “I know it means nothing to God, absolutely nothing.” His love for the gospel and for the people he works with allows him to remain humble. He doesn’t consider himself to be above the rest in any sense. Instead he says, “I’m Mike Mosman. The guy who will show up to help you unload a moving van. That’s just about all that matters.”