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Bar chief will depart next year

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson

Judy Johnson, the longest-serving executive director in State Bar history, announced last month that she plans to step down next year.

Johnson, 60, who became executive director in 2000 following six years as chief trial counsel, told the board of governors that after much consideration, she determined that the timing was right for her to move on to new opportunities. She pledged to work with the board during the next 12 months to identify her successor and transition the institution to new leadership by February 2011.

In a note to staff, she said, “I will do all that I can to effect a smooth transition in leadership in an organization that I love and cherish” and she called on bar colleagues to assist in the transition.

Bar President Howard Miller said Johnson “has been the heart and soul of the State Bar for the past decade. The board honors and respects her contributions to the State Bar and appreciates her willingness to be part of the transition to new leadership over the coming year.” Miller also announced that Johnson’s many contributions to the bar and the legal profession would be celebrated appropriately at the 2010 Annual Meeting in Monterey.

A native of Richmond who graduated from Stanford University and the University of California at Davis law school, Johnson was selected by the board as executive director in 2000 after a vigorous search. At the time, she had served one complete four-year term as the State Bar’s chief trial counsel and was into the second year of her renewed term as chief when she sought the move into the executive director’s office. She succeeded Steve Nissen, who had served in the position for two years before joining then-Gov. Gray Davis’ administration.

Johnson began her legal career as a legal aid attorney in Oakland. She then served as a San Francisco deputy district attorney in the consumer fraud unit. Before coming on staff as the State Bar’s chief trial counsel, she served as a member of the bar’s board of governors from 1990-1993, and before that as a member and chair of the Committee of Bar Examiners and as a member of the Judicial Nominees Evaluation Commission.

Her departure will leave four vacancies on the bar’s senior executive team. The organization currently is without a general counsel, chief trial counsel and head of information technology. Those positions have been on hold as a result of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s veto of the bar’s fee bill.