Judge Doug Johnson New OBA President Promises to ‘Stir the Pot’ to Maintain a ‘Good Soup’ 9/20/16 09/20/16 9:33:38 AM
Printer Friendly Version
Douglas County Separate Juvenile Court Chief Judge Douglas F. Johnson (left) visits in his courtroom with participants at Judges and Kids Day, held every summer at the Douglas County Courthouse. His dog, Finnegan, is there to make everyone feel comfortable.
Judge Doug Johnson
New OBA President Promises to
‘Stir the Pot’ to Maintain a ‘Good Soup’
By Lorraine Boyd
The Daily Record
The Omaha Bar Association is lucky to have snagged Doug Johnson to be their president. He has so many irons in the fire, it’s hard to keep count. But one thing you can be sure of: he gives each and every obligation his full attention and energy.
The Chief Judge of the Separate Juvenile Court of Douglas County has served on that bench for 23 years. He also presides over Nebraska’s first Zero-to-Three Family Drug Treatment Court, which was established in 2005. He is co-chair of the Nebraska Supreme Court’s Commission on Children in the Courts and a member of the Governor’s Commission on Protection of Children. He’s past president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) and is a longtime member of its teaching faculty. He is the founding Lead Judge of the Omaha Model Court. He is an adjunct professor at his alma mater, Creighton University School of Law. And he enthusiastically participates in the annual Adoption Day festivities and the annual Family Reunification Picnic for families that have reunited after “successfully completing their juvenile court journey.”
He is the recipient of a multitude of awards, including the OBA’s Robert M. Spire Public Service Award in 2010 and the 2010 Creighton University School of Law Alumni Merit Award, as well as the Nebraska Supreme Court Award of Distinguished Judge for Service to the Community in 2001.
He didn’t start out to be a judge, or even a lawyer. He attended seminary with the intent to become a Jesuit priest for several years before deciding he was drawn to a different life, which now includes his wife, Mary, and their two daughters, Anne and Kate.
What he learned at the seminary stayed with him, however, especially the idea of sharing his gifts, pursuing justice and having concern for the poor and marginalized. Jesuit teachings emphasize care for the individual person, developing the whole person, teaching behaviors that reflect critical thought and responsible action, all “for the greater glory of God.” It is obvious to the observer that he “strives for excellence” in everything he does – which bodes well for the Omaha Bar.
Johnson’s election may also signal the first-ever OBA mascot: Finnegan the Domesti-PUP. Finnegan, a standard-sized poodle-English setter-mix rescue dog, is Johnson’s own pet, but he’s also the Juvenile Court’s therapy dog. He comes to work with Johnson every day and administers love and solace to all who need it.
Despite his heavy load, Judge Johnson took time out to answer a few questions from The Daily Record concerning his new role as OBA president.
Reminded that he is the first sitting judge to be elected to the post, he commented about its significance. “As [Nebraska Court of Appeals Judge] Francie Reidmann said last year at the October OBA meeting: ‘I’m just a lawyer wearing a robe.’ Judges are members of the OBA. I just am grateful to support the OBA and give back after I have received so richly over 29 years.”
We asked, “Do you feel any extra obligation because of that?”
“No,” he said. “When I commit to service, I take that responsibility seriously and do my best to fulfill it. I will encourage more judges to attend events and participate on committees.”
He said his only advantage is, “For better or worse, when judges speak, attorneys listen. My biggest opportunity here is to help educate attorneys on best practices in the courtroom.”
However, Johnson explained, “The OBA has sponsorships for events, and I will take a hands-off approach to that. Dave Sommers, our excellent executive director, does all the solicitations, promotions and thank-yous of those sponsors.”
As for the advantages of judges and lawyers in the association, he said, “Breaking bread together at events, seeing judges out from behind the bench and robe is healthy for both judges and attorneys.”
Asked to discuss his goals for his year in office, he replied:
• Greater engagement of the judiciary in bar activities. Possibly bring back a ‘lite’ bench bar conference or a series of group discussions on timely issues such as social media, vicarious trauma and healthy self-care, and best practice pointers.
• Continue our mentorship initiative started by OBA Past President Stu Dornan by directly assigning mentors to the new attorneys who attend the Walk Through the Courts program.
• Continue the successes of our Young Lawyers’ Division. Every year they are doing unique, engaging, and different events which are well-attended and well-regarded.
• The OBA Lawyer Referral Service is in the process of adding Subject Matter Panels to its offering, which is a big change. It creates panels of attorneys within the service that have shown a specific amount of experience, and connects the public with them. We are proud of the “value added” service of the LRS, and look forward to educating the public about it. The LRS has been the service backbone of the OBA for the past 54 years, and does great work connecting the public with attorneys for a reduced-fee consultation (30 minutes for $40). After the consultation, the attorney can then charge regular rates.
The LRS is important, he said, because it gives the public greater access to legal advice.
About upcoming programs, he enumerated highlights:
• Creighton University Basketball Coach Greg McDermott will speak at the membership luncheon in October, and the second YLD Gala in January or February 2017.
• In 2016, the OBA co-hosted the Legal Aid Golf Scramble instead of our traditional Field Day. We wanted to see if we could have a more successful event by combining forces with another attorney golf event. The feedback from membership indicates a large interest in returning to OBA’s own Field Day. We are now looking at options to fulfill that desire.
As a bar, we are always trying to do our best by our members, and we want to make sure they have the opportunities to get the most out of their OBA membership.
• The wine tasting event continues to grow. Last year over 300 attended. What a great event to thank our members for being a part of the OBA!
• And, we’re always open to new ideas.
“Over the years we have continued to expand in many ways. We are open to ideas, but so far the membership feedback remains positive.”
When asked how he planned to get members involved, he answered, “By asking them. Sometimes people need to be reminded how their involvement and contribution makes all the difference. But, even now, there’s a good reason why so many attorneys and judges are active in the OBA – our programming is accessible, affordable and fun. That recipe has been the secret to our success for a long time.”
How valuable is the Young Lawyers’ Division (YLD) to that effort?
“Essential. We want to cultivate the future committee chairs, involved members, and executive council members from the YLD. The flexibility we offer the Division to take their ideas and run with them has paid off, and has shown the ingenuity and thoughtfulness of the younger attorneys in the community.
Johnson explained how the OBA plans to continue to bring new members in, and to make the OBA vital for them and for OBA veterans.
“We must stay relevant to members. It’s is all about listening to their needs, meeting those needs, and doing right by our mission of community, education, service and leadership.
“Some of the benefits offered members can be quantified – like 12 free CLE hours each year or the free Wine Tasting or the Fall Kickoff BBQ for $20.
“There are also member benefits that extend past quantifiable, like public service opportunities, the chance to work on a committee side-by-side a judge, and the rewarding volunteering to educate the community about the importance of the rule of law in our country through Law Day.
“Longtime OBA members are incredibly important to us. We work hard to try and connect those older members with younger members at events. For a good soup, the pot must be stirred!”
And we asked, “Where do you want to see the bar this time next year?”
“128 years old! And, hopefully, it’ll be as good as or better than it is.
“It is a privilege to serve as the OBA president, and I am grateful for this opportunity,” Judge Johnson said.