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Southern Indiana commercial litigator to assume top spot in DTCI

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Evansville attorney Jim Johnson always wanted to be a lawyer, but he did not always want to be a leader.

The litigator will become the president of the Defense Trial Counsel of Indiana at the start of 2014. He will guide the organization as it works on a long-range plan with the goal of remaining responsive to members’ needs as well as adapting to changes in legal work.

Johnson is excited about assuming the top job although he admits he had to adjust to the idea of leading a statewide organization.

james johnson Johnson

A longtime member of DTCI, he stepped away from the board in 2004 because he was not sure he was ready or mature enough to handle a leadership position. He rejoined the board in 2008 and began the move toward the presidency.

“I just thought I was ready to give back to the profession,” Johnson said, quickly adding that reason sounds like such a cliché. “I was just ready to become more involved.”

Within the legal community, Johnson is described as a “well respected member of the bar” and a “very effective advocate.” While he may have harbored doubts at one time, DTCI treasurer Michele Bryant has confidence in his abilities.

“I think Jim will do a fantastic job as president,” said Bryant, partner at Kahn Dees Donovan & Kahn LLP in Evansville.

Even while he was not on the board, Johnson was still involved with DTCI. He served for 10 years as chair of the Amicus Committee, a position that combined his interests in appellate work and legal writing. He headed up the process of determining in which cases DTCI would file a brief and soliciting other attorneys to do the writing. He said the work was collaborative and discussions were focused solely on the law, not on the politics.

johnson-facts.jpgJohnson shied away from calling the committee’s efforts a success but he did note that many times the courts would rule in favor of the position DTCI had advocated.

Born and raised in a blue-collar family in Evansville, Johnson earned his bachelor of science degree at Florida State University and his law degree at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. He first practiced at Matchett and Thopy in Shelbyville before returning to his hometown and joining the firm that is now Randolph Fine Porter & Johnson LLP.

He has always been a litigator, cutting his teeth on insurance defense for more than 10 years before morphing into commercial litigation. Johnson’s attraction to appellate work developed early in his career. He liked what he called the purity and intimacy of working through the briefs and the challenge of presenting oral arguments.

Outside of the office, Johnson serves on the board of directors of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Ohio Valley. There, he not only lends his legal expertise to the organization but also volunteers regularly at the house.

Jeremy Evans, the charity’s executive director, described Johnson as being deeply and personally connected to the charity and bringing a wealth of knowledge to the board. Seeing his work on the board gave Evans confidence that Johnson will do well leading DTCI.

“Jim’s good humor, loyalty and leadership are a valued asset to our charity, and I feel certain that he’ll be of immense value as the president of the Defense Trial Counsel of Indiana,” Evans said. •



IL: You will serve as president of DTCI in 2014. What are your plans for the organization?

JJ: In 2014, DTCI will conduct a Long Range Planning Conference (LRPC). I hope through this process to ensure DTCI is responsive to its members.



IL: There are many local, state and national organizations for attorneys. What role do you see DTCI as fulfilling?

JJ: To serve attorneys in Indiana who are primarily representing defendants in civil cases.



IL: The practice of law is undergoing fundamental changes with the loss of jobs and rise of technology that can do legal work. Do you see DTCI as having to make any fundamental changes in the future to respond to these developments?

JJ: This is one of the main reasons for the LRPC. No one has all of the answers. The hope is by surveying the members and bringing officers, board members and members together, we can begin to answer these questions.



IL: As an attorney, what attracted you to civil litigation?

JJ: My first job as a law clerk in law school was with a defense firm (Hume Smith Geddes Green & Simmons). That job opened my eyes to civil litigation.



IL: In 2007, you were named DTCI’s Indiana Defense Lawyer of the Year. What have you learned about being a defense attorney during your career?

JJ: It is a privilege to handle civil litigation cases in Indiana. The practice level is high, the cases are interesting, and the attorneys are good to work with (for the most part).



IL: You were admitted to the Indiana bar in 1987. How has civil litigation changed over the years?

JJ: Technology has made things easier and faster. However, the basic practice has not changed. We represent one client at a time and do the best we can based on the cards we are dealt.



IL: Your firm, Rudolph Fine Porter & Johnson, posts on its website that its primary goal with new attorneys and lateral hires is to further educate, train and develop their skills. These days, many firms want attorneys who already know the nuts and bolts of practicing law. Why does your firm consider education as a primary goal?

JJ: Our approach hasn’t changed. We want to train Rudolph Fine Porter & Johnson attorneys to be as good an attorney as they can be.



IL: Your alma mater, Florida State University, will play in the 2014 BCS national championship. If you were offered a first-class plane fare, deluxe hotel accommodations, and a free ticket to the game but you had to sit with the fans of the opposing team, wear the T-shirt of the opposing team and cheer for the opposing team, would you go to the game?

JJ: In a heartbeat. I have always wanted to see a game in the Rose Bowl, and I would get a free Auburn T-shirt. Go Noles.•

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  1. Indianapolis employers harassment among minorities AFRICAN Americans needs to be discussed the metro Indianapolis area is horrible when it comes to harassing African American employees especially in the local healthcare facilities. Racially profiling in the workplace is an major issue. Please make it better because I'm many civil rights leaders would come here and justify that Indiana is a state the WORKS only applies to Caucasian Americans especially in Hamilton county. Indiana targets African Americans in the workplace so when governor pence is trying to convince people to vote for him this would be awesome publicity for the Presidency Elections.

  2. Wishing Mary Willis only God's best, and superhuman strength, as she attempts to right a ship that too often strays far off course. May she never suffer this personal affect, as some do who attempt to change a broken system: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QojajMsd2nE

  3. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  4. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  5. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

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