BEAUMONT – Stunned colleagues looked for answers today as to why former U.S. Attorney Mike Bradford apparently shot himself to death in a wooded area outside Beaumont, where he headed the Justice Department’s office for the Eastern District of Texas from 1994 until 2001.
“We’re kind of in a state of shock around here,” said Hubert Oxford, a partner at the private law firm where Bradford began working two years ago.
A police officer in Sour Lake, about 20 miles west of Beaumont, discovered Bradford’s body Tuesday evening after he was dispatched to investigate an abandoned vehicle, Hardin County Sheriff Ed Cain said.
“He found a BMW, which was unusual, because it’s a nice vehicle and it was parked out in the woods… it had a briefcase in it, clothes and a sports jacket in it, so he started looking around,” the sheriff said.
About 75 yards from the car, the officer found Bradford’s body and a shotgun, Cain said.
“We have no indication of foul play,” the sheriff said. “It’s a pretty clear-cut case. … It appeared that he had just sat down on the ground and put the gun to his head or under his chin and pulled the trigger. Everything was found right there.”
Bradford would have turned 51 Wednesday. He missed a business meeting Monday and was reported missing shortly after, said Oxford, who said it unusual for Bradford to miss an appointment.
According to the Jefferson County District Clerk’s office, Bradford’s wife filed for divorce Sept. 5.
“Mike was a very private person about his personal life,” Oxford said. “I guess that’s a problem when something like this happens, you say, ‘I wish he would have told me about it.’
“He must have had some severe personal problems.”
Bradford was well known within the legal profession in southeast Texas. Oxford described him as a “gentle, kind, soft-spoken lawyer.”
“He doesn’t say much but when he speaks, it was worth listening to,” Oxford said. “He’s really going to be missed around here. He had done everything a lawyer could do.”
Bradford represented the federal government in the 2000 trial of a $675 million wrongful death suit that surviving Branch Davidians and family members filed after the fiery end to the Davidian standoff near Waco in 1993.
He won the case after a five-week jury trial.
Bradford also received special recognition in July 2000 when the Justice Department’s highest award went to those who assisted and prosecuted three men responsible for the 1998 Jasper dragging death of James Byrd Jr.
“Michael has always been one of the most soft-spoken, dignified, professional and fair public servants that I’ve ever known,” said Stephen Watson, a mediator at Jefferson County’s Dispute Resolution Center, which Bradford established.
“In times like this, he’s the kind of community servant that we really need,” Watson said. “To lose someone like that is a terrible loss to our community.”
While with Benckenstein & Oxford, Bradford represented clients like Koch Industries and Toyota.
“When you leave a place like the U.S. Attorney’s office after you have been in public service all your life, you don’t have a thousand clients when you walk out,” Oxford said. “He was really on a roll as far as getting new clients, new business.”
Before his appointment as U.S. Attorney, Bradford was a state district judge from 1989 until 1994 and a federal magistrate for two years beginning in 1987.
Some of the officers who arrived at the remote wooded area where Bradford’s body was found knew and had worked with him, Cain said.
“He was such an easygoing guy,” the sheriff said. “It seemed like nothing in his work or private life would have ever caused him to do something like this. It’s still hard to believe.”
Bradford is survived by his wife, Liz Wiggins Bradford, a daughter and a son from a previous marriage.
His funeral was set for 11 a.m. Friday at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Beaumont.