She has the advantages of both an inside candidate and an
outside candidate and will be the strong manager that the bar needs.
Johnsons immediate goals will be to continue to stabilize the
bar, shore up its infrastructure, fill holes in the executive team, and begin to
re-establish some of the programs that were discontinued during the recent financial
Following Gov. Wilsons veto of the bars funding
authorization in 1997, it laid off more than 500 em-ployees and shut down or cut back
almost all its operations. Nearly a dozen top executives resigned. Executive director
Steven Nissen and acting executive director Jeffrey Gersick both left to join the Davis
administration. General counsel Marie Moffat was named acting executive director in
February but did not seek the top job.
Through a Supreme Court-ordered special assessment for the discipline
operation and with the reinstatement of funding this year, a slow rebuilding has begun.
Its been a roller coaster of a ride, Johnson, 51,
She strongly believes in the bars role in protecting the public
and providing services and support programs that encourage ethical, competent
practitioners. At the same time, she does not think its terribly important that its
members like the bar.
Its important for the State Bar to be a success,
Johnson says. We need to show members that theres a value people receive for
their fees, that we have efficient, well-run programs that address a need.
In addition to jump-starting programs, Johnson plans to devote some
time to restoring the bars credibility with the legislature. She hopes to convince
skeptics in Sacramento that we are not hiding the ball, that we are straight
talkers, that we are keeping faith with the commitment we made in Sacramento and with the
If not, heads will roll. Im not going to stick my neck
out in contravention of a clear legislative mandate [to run an efficient, cost-effective
Johnson brings to the new job a career that includes 17 years as a
San Francisco deputy district attorney in the consumer fraud unit and a history of bar
activism that began with a stint on the Judicial Nominees Evaluation Commission and
culminated with a three-year term on the board of governors.
Experience as both a volunteer and a practicing attorney has given
her the ability to build consensus by bringing people together to work toward a common
strategy, she says. I hope I have credibility as a practicing lawyer and will not be
perceived as a career bureaucrat, Johnson said.
Palmer Madden, who chaired the executive director search committee,
said Johnson was the unanimous choice of the board for the top job, and won out over 46
candidates. The committee wanted three qualities, he said: management experience,
experience running a state bar, and the ability to take a fresh look at the bar and
generate new ideas.
Johnson met all three criteria, Madden said, by having an insiders
familiarity with the bar, almost six years of running the discipline operation, the bars
largest office with the biggest budget, and she has a lot of creative ideas I
thought would bring new energy to the bar.
A native of Richmond, Johnson attended Stanford University before
enrolling in law school at the University of California at Davis.
While working for a Model Cities poverty program in Richmond, she
realized that as a political activist, she was most interested in social change and how to
improve peoples lives. Law seemed like a way to do that, to make change, and I
wanted to be a part of it, she said.
Working for Legal Aid in Oakland after getting her law degree,
John-son sued the police department for its arrest avoidance policy, charging
that officers refusal to arrest batterers violated female citizens equal
protection rights. The case settled and led to better protection of battered women,
She joined the fledgling consumer fraud unit in the San Francisco DAs
office after a year with Legal Aid and ultimately became principal attorney, handling both
civil and criminal consumer fraud cases.
As the bars chief trial counsel, Johnson presides over a staff
(when fully funded) of more than 200 and a $28 million budget.
Johnson, the youngest of four daughters, lives in the East Bay with
her 87-year-old mother, Bernice, a retired cannery worker, and Jeremi, her 15-year-old
daughter. Her father, now deceased, worked in the Kaiser shipyards in World War II.
She does all the cooking and loves to entertain, she says, but time
constraints make it all but impossible to finish reading a novel. Im
overextended, overworked, dont have enough time for my personal life, Johnson
But her mother, whom Johnson credits for her gift of gab (she
des-cribes herself as the queen of the extended metaphor), provides a balance
in her life. My mom has a knack for aptly summarizing a situation and giving it a
more balanced perspective. That perspective has helped me a lot.