Prominent attorney Mike Espy shared with students his rise to notoriety as well as the infamous fall that brought him closer to God during chapel on Wednesday.
“What happens when you run into trouble and you do everything you can to get out of it? There is no answer on your own timetable, and you fall deeper into the muck and mud. Faith is tested, really tested,” Espy said. “At your show down, God shows up, and together you show out.”
The Mississippi native ran for Congress in 1985 to represent a poor district where the people who would vote for him could not afford to donate to his campaign. At 29, he became the youngest House Representative and the first African-American Congressman elected in Mississippi since Reconstruction. A decade later, President Bill Clinton appointed him to serve as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. The first African-American to hold that cabinet position, Espy said he was expected to “do nothing slowly,” but within days responded to deaths caused by under-cooked hamburgers at a national fast-food chain as well as a 500-year flood and negotiated tariff and trade quotas with other countries.
Then trouble came, and Espy was accused of receiving improper gifts, including football tickets, and was investigated by the FBI.
“I went from calling presidents and prime ministers to not being able to call a cab,” he said.
He was forced to resign from heading the USDA, and the four-year indictment compromised his reputation, making him an unappealing attorney to potential clients.
Shortly before his 7-week trial began, Espy said God brought Psalms 27 to his attention, first through a private Bible study in his basement, then at church and later on the license plate of a vehicle tailing him on the highway.
“God knocked me to my knees because that’s where I should have been all along,” he said.
Although the prosecutor brought more than 70 witnesses and spent some $16 million on the trial, Espy was acquitted of all 30 felony charges.
“My faith has been strengthened. You have to be strong and disciplined. Do what you can do, but understand that you can’t do it all by yourself. You have to go to God on your knees, pray and ask for help,” he said. “Be audacious. You are a child of God. You can ask your God for a blessing.”
Espy, brother of Community Relations Director Joyce Searcy, also spoke at the College of Law as part of its Christian Faith and the Law series.
He was appointed as class counsel in the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill federal lawsuit and now works with Morgan & Morgan, the nation’s largest plaintiff’s law firm. Internationally, he participates in large-scale agricultural development programs in a number of developing countries.