Brett J. Talley, nominated by President Donald Trump to the Federal District Court in Montgomery, Alabama, has never tried a case, is married to a White House lawyer, and has been dubbed as unqualified by the American Bar Association.
He also has a fervent interest in investigating and writing about paranormal activities.
On his questionnaire for the Senate Judiciary Committee, a copy of which was provided to The Daily Beast, Talley says that he was part of The Tuscaloosa Paranormal Research Group from 2009-2010. The group, according to its website, searches for the truth “of the paranormal existence” in addition to helping “those who may be living with paranormal activity that can be disruptive and/or traumatic.”
David Higdon, the group’s founder and later a co-author with Talley told The Daily Beast that he couldn’t remember specific cases they may have worked on together.
“Mainly we may go into a house between maybe 7 at night and 6 in the morning and stay up all night long and see if we can see what’s going on,” Higdon told The Daily Beast in a phone interview, when asked about the paranormal group’s work generally. “If we go into a private house, we mainly try and debunk what’s going on.”
Higdon said that 85-90 percent of the time, they don’t discover any kind of paranormal activity.
“If you watch those TV shows, it seems like every five ten minutes, something is peeking up,” Higdon explained. “It’s not like it is on TV. You sit in the dark and mostly wish something does happen.”
Talley’s work in this field is not the typical biographical detail found on the resume of a federal court nominee. He is a lawyer too, and a Harvard Law educated one at that.
But ghost chasing wasn’t a quirky side-hobby. Indeed, before he became the embodiment of the Trump administration’s efforts to pack the courts with young, conservative, sometimes dubiously-credentialed judges, Halley wrote books about paranormal activities that earned him numerous plaudits. And not just within the horror fiction scene. Stuart Stevens, Mitt Romney’s campaign manager in 2012, was a fan too.
"I find it hilarious that no one is writing about his horror writing. He has a cult following." Stevens told The Daily Beast. “I have to say I wasn't really aware he was a lawyer as my dealings with him were as a writer on campaign. He's an interesting, smart guy. But so is Stephen King."
Talley may not yet be on the level of a King. But his writing has been steady and well received. The cannon includes a 2012 epic called “Haunted Tuscaloosa,” co-written with Higdon.
"In the pages of this book, you will hear tales of haunted houses and shadows moving through university buildings,” the authors write. “We will enter abandoned insane asylums, antebellum homes and ancient cemeteries. We will review stories of long-dead Civil War soldiers, of women driven insane by the death of loves and of some leading lights of Tuscaloosa who still walk in the massive homes they constructed."
In a 2013 follow-up from the co-authors and ghost investigators, called “Haunted Alabama Black Belt,” the duo explored a region in Alabama “from the Cato-Thorn House in Barbour County to the Snow Hill Institute in Wilcox County” and “uncover[ed] the ghosts and hauntings of one of Alabama's most historic areas.”
Talley has cited H.P. Lovecraft, the horror fiction author of works such as “The Call of Cthulu,” as an influence on his work. In a 2013 interview about an anthology he contributed to called “Limbus, INC,” he talked about “Lovecraftian fiction.”
“The subgenre of Lovecraftian fiction, I feel like is not really that well defined,” Talley said. “What makes stuff Lovecraft? And I think really if you asked people, you’d get a lot of arguments about this.”
On his YouTube page, Talley has book trailers for some of his other work, including “The Reborn,” a novella in which “reincarnation is scientific fact and a simple blood test can reveal exactly who a person will be even before they are born.”
The trailer, complete with stock footage of flames, Papyrus font, and a score reminiscent of Hans Zimmer’s work in Christopher Nolan movies, imagines a world in which a number of murderers and terrorists, including Charles Manson and Osama Bin Laden could be reincarnated.
In that same book, according to The Washington Post, Talley made Caitlin Conant, Sen. Rob Portman’s then communications manager, the antichrist. At the time, Talley was also working as Portman’s speechwriter.
“I wanted her to be important. I wanted her to be a major character,” Talley said of his decision to make Conant the antichrist. “I consider it a gift. In horror novels being the antichrist is, like, the highest honor possible.”
In one interview, Talley explained that his favorite way to spend a Friday night was to check out old, abandoned buildings.
“Factories, insane asylums, that sort of thing,” he said. “I am always trying to get people to go with me, but no one ever does. You have to watch out or you’ll get arrested for trespassing.”