At 17, Brandon Fremin enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. The Catholic High School senior signed a five-year contract to work as a reservist in intelligence for the military branch.

“I thought they were the best in the business and I wanted to see if I could be the best," Fremin said.

But weeks before Fremin was scheduled to head off to boot camp, he found out he needed knee surgery, delaying his start. So in the meantime, he began studying criminal justice at Southeastern Louisiana University, while adjusting the plan in his head for how he could still serve in intelligence, even if that meant further down the road as an officer. 

“Obviously, that didn’t happen,” said Fremin, who recently became the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Louisiana — officially taking the helm this past week after President Donald Trump signed his confirmation to the post — culminating more than 15 years as a prosecutor in the Baton Rouge area.

Fremin said his path completely shifted after he became immersed in the criminal justice system. Once he got inside a courtroom during a 1998 internship in the East Baton Rouge District Attorney's Office, he knew that was the way ahead.

“I was hooked,” Fremin, 43, said. “When I saw my first jury trial, it was right there when I knew I had to go to law school.”

While he followed through on his initial Marine dreams, serving for eight years in the reserves, he shifted his professional goals toward litigation and criminal justice, completing his undergraduate degree and taking a job as an investigator for then-District Attorney Doug Moreau.

“It was inevitable he was going to be successful,” Moreau said about the young Fremin. “He’s got great integrity, works hard, is honest. If you give him responsibility or job to do, he sees it from beginning to end.”

Fremin completed law school in 2003, taking a job as a prosecutor for Moreau. He then became an assistant U.S. attorney, headed back to the District Attorney’s office as a section chief, and then most recently served as the criminal division head in the Louisiana Attorney General’s office. All of his prosecutorial stints were served in Baton Rouge. 

At his latest post, Fremin oversaw about 100 employees, including the federally-funded Medicaid fraud unit and the prosecution of the state's highest-profile criminal cases, including the bribery scandal of Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa, as well as the criminal review of the Alton Sterling case after the U.S. Department of Justice chose not to press civil rights charges against the two white Baton Rouge police officers involved in the shooting of the 37-year-old black man — an investigation Fremin declined to comment on. 

"He rose from a student intern to probably the most well-liked, respected attorneys in our office," said Stephen Pugh, the head of special prosecutions for the East Baton Rouge District Attorney. “His ascent was consistent and rapid, it was remarkable.”

'I do more by 5 a.m.'

And though many years — and cases and official titles and trials — have passed, Tony Clayton, currently an assistant district attorney in West Baton Rouge Parish but then in East Baton Rouge, still fondly remembers meeting Fremin, the fresh investigative hire assigned to his section.

“He had this German look about him and he had one eyebrow,” Clayton said. “I said, ‘Unibrow, you’re assigned to me.’”

Clayton said Fremin stepped into his new superior’s office and responded matter-of-factly that he was a Marine.

“He said, ‘I bench 300 pounds and I do more by 5 a.m. than you probably do all week,’” Clayton said, laughing. “He clearly got the matter straightened out.”

And while Clayton remembers fondly how Fremin kept him laughing for almost the next 10 years, he said the then-investigator was also invaluable working their caseload, which included many serious, violent crimes where witness testimony was key to the prosecution’s success.

"He had an uncanny ability to convince (witnesses) it was the right thing to do, that it was their civic duty,” Clayton said, noting that argument rarely worked when other people used it. “He would always have them show up. … They trusted him.”

And once he began as a prosecutor, former first assistant district attorney Prem Burns recalled, Fremin stood out from his colleagues, even then.

“He would come in to seek advice, which not everyone will be humble enough to do,” Burns said. “I always found him to be very deferential, polite, reflective. … He will really think a problem out before he acts on it.”

And that’s how Fremin also approaches his personal life, which revolves around his wife and three young daughters, said longtime friend Craig Broome.

“He definitely has his priorities straight,” said Broome, who went to high school and served in the Marines with Fremin and lived with him during their early 20s. “He picks up carpool, coaches basketball — he’s a real father.”

Fremin said he essentially spends all his free time with his children, supporting them as they each test out their interests or next hobbies, however fleeting they may be.

“There’s no shortage of explorations,” Fremin said, smiling. The photos of his daughters — which already take up much of his still-transitioning office — embody that philosophy, showing the girls in costumes, or with a horse, at church, playing sports and on vacation.

“Our free time is spent with our family,” he said.

Fremin, who grew up in West Baton Rouge Parish, said multiple times that he is "a private guy," noting that while he is well-acquainted with many people, his inner circle of friends and family remains small and very close-knit. However, Broome said his friend is also often generous with his time. He remembers how Fremin saw a fellow Marine beginning to lose his way, and his friend made a conscious decision to take him under his wing and be a mentor. He said they are still in touch. 

“Don’t let that bald head and scowl fool you,” Broome said. “He is genuinely one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. … He’s a guy I could call up right now and say, 'Brandon, I need some help moving something at 10 p.m. at night,' and not a doubt in my mind he would be here at 10:05.”

'Always seeking justice' 

Throughout the years, Broome said that aspect of Fremin has stayed constant, giving his all to the important people in his life, as well as the job before him. 

"He was squared away, focused, determined," Broome said. 

His new role as U.S. Attorney, serving the nine-parish district, won't be any different, Fremin said. He said he believes while the office was well-positioned before he came in, he hopes to take it to the next level.

“We have a violent crime problem in the city, we also have a U.S. Attorney General (Jeff Sessions) who recognizes that that’s a priority, and with my background, it certainly places me in a unique position to address those issues,” Fremin said.

He said he fully supports the area’s strike force, a recent effort led by his office to engage area law enforcement and prosecutors to lock up the worst offenders contributing to violence on the streets. 

Burns called Fremin’s work “in the trenches” at the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge — as a federal prosecutor and with the state attorney general’s office — invaluable, giving him a unique credibility in his new role.

"He’ll roll up his sleeves,” Clayton said. “Local DAs couldn't ask for a better friend in the U.S. Attorney's office in Brandon Fremin."

Fremin said as he takes on the new position, he will be guided by advice he received as a new prosecutor: "It’s OK to be firm, it’s OK to be aggressive, as long as you’re fair, ethical and honest."

“I take this challenge willingly, and I take it extraordinarily seriously, and I’m going to give it as much as I possibly can," Fremin said. “The goal is always seeking justice.”

Follow Grace Toohey on Twitter, @grace_2e.