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Alumni Spotlight: Justice Johnson Retiring

The Honorable Lee Johnson, ’80, has served on the Kansas Supreme Court since 2007

From School of Law Newsletter - Fall 2019

The Honorable Lee JohnsonThe Honorable Lee Johnson, jd ’80, had the chance to observe appellate arguments and study appellate briefs while a student at Washburn University School of Law. When he graduated and returned to Caldwell, Kansas, to practice he knew where he wanted to go in his career.

“Although I knew going into small-town practice was unlikely to be a path to the appellate courts, I never lost sight of that goal,” Johnson said. “Every lawyer in the state was notified and given an opportunity to apply when an opening was to occur on the Court of Appeals, so when the time was right for my family, I put in my application. On my second try, I was selected.”

His selection came in 2001 when Gov. Bill Graves appointed him to the Court of Appeals. In 2007, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius appointed him to the Supreme Court. His liaison assignments in those 12 years have included various children and family committees and commissions, as well as the district magistrate judges' executive committee.

“It has been a special honor to serve on the Kansas Supreme Court, especially given that there were only 75 jurists in the history of this state who had been selected to serve on this court before me,” Johnson said. “I have felt a great deal of responsibility knowing that what this court decides now can affect Kansas citizens for years, if not decades, into the future. I have been fortunate to serve with colleagues who truly care about the work we do and strive to get things right.”

Johnson earned a business degree from the University of Kansas in 1969 and then served two years in the Army. Upon returning from duty, he managed his family insurance agency in Caldwell and was active in many community organizations. He was mayor of Caldwell from 1975-76 when an acquaintance he made in high school, Don Stallings, enticed him to study law at the age of 30.

“I chose Washburn principally because it catered to the non-traditional student and was known at that time to emphasize Kansas law,” Johnson said. “I could not have made a better choice. A law school is only as good as its professors, and I was fortunate to have excellent teachers during my time at Washburn.”

Johnson practiced with Stallings and later started a solo practice. He also served as city attorney for Caldwell, Argonia, and Hunnewell, as well as counsel for the local school and hospital districts. He volunteered for 16 years on the Sumner Mental Health Board.

Living a life of service to his community, the state and to the law, Johnson is excited about the next step.

“I'm looking forward to reading for pleasure instead of reading thousands of pages of briefs, memos, etc.,” he said.

He plans to golf, fish, hunt, and tinker around the house more.

“My wife, Donna, says she is looking forward to having our life back,” he said. “I suspect she also hopes my tinkering will actually fix things around our place.”

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