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Cupcake Brown walked barefoot into Kenneth Rose’s office, her green dress stained brown after a four-day bender. Rose, then a partner at San Diego’s Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch, was just about to fire Brown from her job as a legal secretary at the firm. In the next few minutes, the self-described “trash can junkie” took a big step to changing her life. She told Rose of her addiction, that she needed to quit using — and that if she didn’t stop that day, she’d go back to her cycle of abuse. Brown remembers that Rose tore up her termination papers and that he drove her that day to a rehabilitation facility. “He saved my life,” Brown says. “He let me know that there was something worth saving.” Thirteen years later, the 36-year-old Brown is a top student at the University of San Francisco School of Law and is working this summer as an associate at S.F.’s Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison. It’s hard to imagine someone who’s taken a more difficult road to a legal career. Brown, whose birth name really is Cupcake, survived molestation and a five-year stint as an adolescent prostitute. She is a former gang member, drug addict and alcoholic. While her academic and work record was impeccable by the time she applied to Brobeck for her summer position, back in 1984, things were very different. When Brown applied for her job as Rose’s legal secretary, she was still an addict, but she hid it well enough for him to give her a job. A few years later, after getting a second chance to keep her job and finishing rehab, Brown went back to work for Rose and started taking classes at San Diego City College. She earned her associate’s degree with honors in 1995 and transferred to San Diego State University, where she graduated magna cum laude in 1998 — all the while working for Rose. With her academic and legal experience — and mentors Rose, San Diego Superior Court Judge Frank Brown and U.S. District Magistrate Judge Larry Burns supporting her — Brown was accepted to USF’s law school. It didn’t take long for Brown to begin doubting herself. In her first semester away, she called Judge Brown, no relation, and got some tough love. “Damn it if she didn’t call me in October, and she’s crying because it’s so hard,” he says. He told her, “wipe your snotty nose and go study.” She finished her first year in the top 10 percent of her class and worked as a summer associate for McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen. While Cupcake said she isn’t ashamed of any part of her past, she’s encountered some who are less forgiving. “There are still some people out there, I don’t know if it’s because of ignorance or fear, they’re OK with me until they find out who I used to be,” Brown says. “They’ll find out I used to be a crack addict, and they’ll grab their purse — that I used to be a prostitute and they’ll grab their husband.” The judges who have befriended her say they don’t see her past getting in the way. “Whatever problems she’s had as an adolescent, she’s totally turned her life around,” says Burns. “Anyone who knows her knows she’s honest, has great integrity and is totally trustworthy.” After passing the bar, her immediate plans are a far cry from most law school graduates. Although she already has a GED, Brown wants to go back to high school and earn her diploma. She plans on trying to steer kids onto a good path and doesn’t want them to look at her and think they can get there without finishing high school. Past that, she has her sights set on becoming a judge. “I didn’t think anybody would make me a judge because of my background. But I think I’d be a good judge because you couldn’t b.s. me,” says Brown. “I’ve turned my life around. If I can do it, you can, too.”

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