PBA President Issues Statement on Passing of Retired Judge Justin M. Johnson

HARRISBURG (Nov. 2, 2021) – Pennsylvania Bar Association President Kathleen D. Wilkinson has issued a statement following the death of Retired Judge Justin M. Johnson of Pittsburgh, who was 88 years old:

“For decades, Judge Johnson stood as a giant within the Pennsylvania Bar Association for his unerring dedication to increasing diversity within the legal profession, supporting education for lawyers, teaching young people about the law and providing leadership for efforts to improve the provision of legal services to the poor.

His exemplary career includes founding a private practice, teaching at Duquesne University Law School and, most notably, serving as the second Black judge appointed to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania beginning in 1980. He was thereafter elected to a ten-year term in 1985 and was retained in office in 1995. In 1993, he was appointed to a concurrent, two-year term on the newly-established Court of Judicial Discipline. 

In addition to being an excellent jurist, Judge Johnson was an admired role model to many. After leaving the bench, he was a trusted advisor known for a kind and gentle approach to guiding young lawyers.

Judge Johnson helped forge a new path within the PBA. He was among the founders of the association’s Minority Bar Committee, established with a mission to secure full and equal participation of minorities in the PBA and the legal and judicial systems. He was an active committee member for many years and was presented with the 2002 A. Leon Higginbotham Award, which recognizes the accomplishments of a lawyer or judge who has demonstrated dedication to the legal profession and the minority community through civil, community or legal service.

Judge Johnson supported his professional colleagues by generously giving of his time to PBI, the Pennsylvania Bar Institute, which provides continuing legal education to lawyers across Pennsylvania. He served as a vice president and president-elect of the PBI Board.

He was a champion of public education about the law. He was involved in the PBA’s law-related education projects and the PBA Young Lawyer Division’s High School Mock Trial Competition, which he saw as a platform to encourage minority youth to pursue careers in the law.

In 2005, the PBA Legal Services of the Public Committee presented Judge Johnson with its inaugural Judges’ Award to honor his dedication to the delivery of legal services to indigent Pennsylvanians and his involvement in drafting a statewide report about the delivery of legal services to the needy.

Judge Johnson’s life demonstrated a sincere dedication to the legal profession, the minority community and the community-at-large. Pennsylvania has lost a jurist who truly cared about his profession and his community. His decades of leadership should serve as a model to us all.”

Founded in 1895, the Pennsylvania Bar Association strives to promote justice, professional excellence and respect for the law; improve public understanding of the legal system; facilitate access of legal services; and serve the lawyer members of the state’s largest organized bar association.