Oral history interview with Justice Earl Johnson Jr., conducted by Alan Houseman
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Johnson, Earl Jr.
Oral history interview with Justice Earl Johnson Jr., conducted by Alan Houseman, November 2, 2002. Oral history collection, National Equal Justice Library, Georgetown Law Library.
Justice Earl Johnson Jr. recounts his legal education, his studies for an L.L.M. in criminal law with Gary Bellow at Northwestern University; his move to Washington, D.C. in 1961, his work for the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section at the U.S. Department of Justice, how in 1964 he came to work as Deputy Director under Julian Dugas for Neighborhood Legal Services in Washington, D.C., the rapid expansion of the NLSP program with one of the early OEO grants, his position as deputy director of the first OEO Legal Services Program beginning in the fall of 1965 under Clint Bamberger and Sargent Shriver, his tenure as director of the program beginning in June 1966, the initial difficulties of gaining support for the legal services program, the rapid expansion of the program that he oversaw, the role of the National Advisory Committee; the opposition against the CRLA by Governor Ronald Reagan, the establishment of the LSC, his career as a professor at the University of Southern California School of Law, from 1969 until 1982.
Earl Johnson Jr., was born and grew up in Watertown, SD. 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. He also helped develop the Reginald Heber Smith Community Lawyer’s program, and 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 until1982. 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. He also was a visiting scholar and lecturer at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. 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.The interview with Earl Johnson Jr. consists of three parts. Part 1 can be downloaded as a mp4 file at: https://mediapilot.georgetown.edu/ssdcms/ip.do?u=52c9631b87fa44ePart 2 may be downloaded as a mp4 file at: https://mediapilot.georgetown.edu/ssdcms/ip.do?u=35f33de4f6d04fePart 3 may be downloaded as a mp4 file at: https://mediapilot.georgetown.edu/ssdcms/ip.do?u=0630a669c014486
Office of Economic Opportunity--Legal Services Program; Legal assistance to the poor--United States; Reginald Heber Smith Community Lawyer Fellowship Program; Law--Study and Teaching--United States; Legal assistance to the poor--Washington, D.C.; Neighborhood Legal Services Program (Washington, D.C.); Ford Foundation; California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation; Sargent Shriver;
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