Storyteller: Johnson, Earl, Jr.
Interviewer: Houseman, Alan
Date of interview: 2017-12-08
Topics: Access to justice
Geo, US: CA and Intl
NEJL I.D.: NEJL-009.130
Georgetown status: Video upon request
Georgetown notes: summary, bio note, keywords
Link to NEJL page: http://aspace.ll.georgetown.edu/public/repositories/2/archival_objects/362
NEJL AV link:
Transcript link: Transcript
Consortium status: Gtn info copied
Abstract: The interview was conducted at the Renaissance Washington Downtown Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Biographical / Historical
Earl Johnson Jr., was born and grew up in Watertown, South Dakota. He went to college at Northwestern University in Chicago as a NROTC scholarship recipient, where he graduated in 1955 with a BA in economics. While in college, he became interested in government and public policy, and was active in the student government.
After graduating, Johnson served his required three years in the Navy, and subsequently enrolled in Law School at the University of Chicago, where he received his J.D. in December 1960. He became interested in criminal law and continued his graduate studies at Northwestern University, which had just started a L.L.M. program in criminal law funded by the Ford Foundation.
During his studies at Northwestern, he met Gary Bellow, a pioneer of clinical education on legal services for the poor, with whom he became close friends. After graduating in 1961, both went to Washington, DC, where Johnson started working for the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section at the U.S. Department of Justice, and Bellow for the public defender’s office.
Johnson then went to Miami to work at the field office of the organized crime section, and later to Las Vegas, where he headed the Las Vegas Strike Force.
Johnson’s career in civil legal services began when in 1964 with a phone call from Gary Bellow, who told him about the new neighborhood law office model in Washington, DC, which was funded by the Ford Foundation. While Johnson had never worked in civil legal services, Bellow knew that this was Johnson’s real orientation and passion, so he asked him whether he might be interested and willing to serve as the director of the project. Johnson then interviewed with Kenneth Pye and Howard Westwood, and was subsequently hired as the Deputy Director of the Neighborhood Legal Services Project in Washington, DC, working with Julian Dugas as its director. By the time Johnson arrived in November of 1964, the office had received one of the early legal services grants from the OEO and begun expansion into a 30 lawyer, 10 office program.
Johnson was heavily involved in the strategic and programmatic aspects of the work and worked closely with Howard Westwood in developing the goals and policies of the project. Ultimately, many of these served as the blueprint for the guidelines of the OEO Legal Services Program.
In October 1965, Johnson went to the OEO LSP as its deputy director under Clint Bamberger. In June 1966, Johnson became director of the OEO Legal Services program, succeeding Clinton Bamberger, and served in that position until July 1968. During his tenure at the OEO-LSP, Johnson helped develop and oversaw the tremendous expansion of the program against — sometimes– considerable initial resistance from local bar associations and professional organizations, like the American Trial Lawyers Association (ATLA). He worked closely with the new National Advisory Committee (NAC) to the OEO-LSP, which was comprised of members of the ABA, and key members of legal aid organizations. Johnson helped establish key priorities and components of the program, which continue to be relevant for legal services today: law reform, the containment of Judicare, and the governance of legal service organizations.
Johnson’s wife, Barbara Yanow Johnson, initiated the Reginald Heber Smith Community Lawyer’s program, and Johnson worked with Howard Lesnick at the University of Pennsylvania to implement it. After he left his position at OEO in July 1968, he was appointed to the NAC, and became the chair of its legislative subcommittee.
Johnson taught as an adjunct professor of law at Howard University (1965), at Georgetown University (1966-68), where he taught Law and Poverty, and at the University of Southern California School of Law, from 1969 until 1982. While at the U.S.C., he helped set up a clinical program placing students in DA’s offices and legal aid offices, and headed a research program on dispute resolution.
Johnson was a visiting scholar and lecturer at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, and he also served on the Board of the Western Center on Law and Poverty in Los Angeles.
Justice Johnson was appointed to California Court of Appeal’s Division Seven in 1982 by then Governor Jerry Brown, where he served until his retirement in 2007.
In addition to Justice and Reform, Johnson published: To Establish Justice For All: The Past and Future of Civil Legal Aid in the United States. Praeger, 2013.