The OSB board of governors has identified access to justice and public education as its priority issues. Johnson sees the two issues going hand in hand. "We must ensure a system that is available, financially and otherwise, to all who need it. And we must continually help people understand a very complex arena."
He adds that Oregon does a better job than most states in both areas and has become a national model for others. "But we can always strive for improvement, and this year we expect to focus much of our creative energies toward access and education issues."
Finally, Johnson believes that the ongoing "lawyer image" problem exists largely because people simply do not understand what lawyers do. By focusing on education, he believes this is an area where the bar could make a real difference. "Many of the complaints about the law are based on this idea that it is unyielding," says Johnson. "In truth, one of the beauties of our law is its ability to evolve with us . . . to constantly adapt to new progress and new technology."
Johnson grew up in Ventura County, California, in a politically active family, the eldest of two sons. Both his parents were teachers and active supporters of local politics.
While at Reed, Johnson was vice president of the student body, together with his running mate, Leslie Vickers Jones ’83. He was a house adviser in Shultz II and Ladd and lived in the Dust Bin during his senior year, but he spent much of his time in the student union. In fact, it is a building he so loves that he and his partner of more than 15 years, Jay Roberts, held their marriage ceremony there.
Johnson was in his freshman year at Reed when he came out to family and friends. He says his feelings about Reed’s role in that period of his life are mixed. "The people at Reed were very supportive. I always knew that both students and faculty members, politically, were in the right place. But there were very few gay students, and Reed strongly encouraged students to stay fully engrossed in campus life. I almost wish I’d felt more encouraged to seek camaraderie elsewhere. It was a period when I could have used time with other young people that were in the same place."
After leaving Reed, he worked for two years with an anti-viral research lab in California. He returned to academia before long, receiving his juris doctorate from the University of California–Berkeley in 1987.