Jim Johnson, Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?
Johnsons environmental cases as a lawyer fall broadly into two categories: (1) Where he represented “environmental” interests because as an Assistant Attorney General it was his job to defend the position(s) of state agencies such as the Fisheries and Game Division, regardless of what his personal predilections and values might be or (2) Where the alleged environmental issue was actually an anti-tribal stance. If there is a common theme demonstrated by the cases he puts into his web site it is one of anti-Indian. The most prominent example of these are the Boldt decision cases in the 1970’s where the state ( and Johnson) argued that Indian treat fishing rights would hamper the state’s ability to manage and conserve fisheries resources. This theme continues most recently to 1997 when he argued on behalf of fishing and hunting interests in Alaska that a particular definition of “Indian country” would prevent state management of natural resources, i.e. we can’t trust those tribes to act responsibly regarding natural resources.
Johnson left the Attorney General’s Office in 1993. Cases that he cites having worked on since that time do not reflect environmental concerns unless one agrees that the tribes can’t be trusted to respect or manage natural resources. But the anti Indian theme does continue. In 1996 he personally (not as an attorney representing another client ) filed a Public Discolsure Act Request with the State Gambling Commission for Casino records of the tribes. According to a P.I. report in 2002 former governor Dan Evans criticized Johnson’s anti-Indian positions and said that those views were “so strong” as to question Johnson’s ability to be impartial. In the 2002 campaign the tribes, predictably, said he was “too extreme for the Supreme Court.”
Johnson’s true allegiance is with the property rights interests. A closer look at his web site, after being distracted by the pictures of the birds, focuses on the statements that he has “ defended our constitution” and “I trust JJ to protect my rights because he has a record of defending our constitution.” These statements are code words for property rights.
It then becomes significant that Johnson’s most notorious client of recent years is Tim Eyman. Johnson drafted Tim Eyman’s property tax initiative and defended Eyman’s car tab initiative ( I-695) Again according to the PI he has represented Eyman’s political organization called Permanent Offense, and also the conservative think tank known as the Evergreen Freedom Foundation. In fact the PI reported that Johnson has a reputation as a long time property rights advocate and in 2002 campaign he raised at least $180,000 from builders interests. Johnson’s clients in the last year include the Building Industry Association of Washington, Kemper Development, Gorge Realty, The Washington State Grange and Let’s Get Washington Moving. This last organization is trying to get HOV lanes open to single occupancy vehicles in “non-rush hour” times, a big step backwards environmentally.
Johnson also represents a business group called Common Sense Salmon Recovery (CSSR) that challenged the ESA listing of Chinook Salmon.
Johnson has been in private practice for 11 years, freed from any restraints he might have had as a government lawyer regarding his practice or his personal activities. Although his web site claims to be a “defender” of the environment, the site in fact reveals no case or activity that the environmental community would consider helpful.
The Supreme Court of Washington can have the final say on numerous critical environmental issues like takings. Washington’s citizens should expect their Supreme Court justices to approach these difficult issues with an open mind, and sensitivity to competing interests. The last thing we need is a Supreme Court justice with a predetermined anti-environmental agenda.
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Political Action Committee.