Leon Johnson (1961–)

In 2010, Leon Johnson became the First Division Circuit Judge for the Sixth Judicial District, which is composed of Pulaski and Perry counties. Johnson became the second Black person to hold an executive branch constitutional office in Arkansas when appointed to fill an interim vacancy as attorney general in 2003. In 2007, he was a top contender for the federal judgeship left vacant by the death of U.S. District Court Judge George Howard.

James Leon Johnson was born in Searcy (White County) to Eddie Mae Johnson on August 22, 1961. He graduated from Searcy High School in 1979 and from Harding University, also in Searcy, in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in public administration. He graduated from the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville (Washington County) in 1988.

Johnson entered public service as an intake officer for the Pulaski County Juvenile Court in 1989 and served as law clerk for circuit court judge Marion Humphrey from 1991 through 1994. While a law clerk, his unoccupied vehicle was targeted for arson and extensively damaged. The crime was investigated by the Little Rock Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), but it was never solved.

Entering private practice in Jacksonville (Pulaski County) in 1994, Johnson continued public service as a part-time public defender for White and Prairie counties. He was appointed by Governor Mike Huckabee to the Juvenile Justice Law Revision Task Force in 1998.

In 1999, Johnson joined the Little Rock (Pulaski County) law firm of Wilson & Associates. He received appointments to serve as special judge in circuit, juvenile, and municipal courts.

In June 2000, Johnson was appointed by Gov. Huckabee to complete the unexpired seven-month term of circuit judge Morris Thompson, who had been removed from office by the Arkansas Supreme Court.

In 2000, several circuit court judges in the Sixth Judicial District had recused themselves from hearing a lawsuit seeking the disbarment of President Bill Clinton amid his impeachment. The case was assigned to Johnson’s court, and, while he agreed to hear the case, his term expired before it could be heard.

Johnson returned to private practice in 2001 and sought an open circuit court judgeship in 2002. He was defeated in that race by Tim Fox.

The resignation of Attorney General Mark Pryor on January 3, 2003, four days prior to being sworn in as a U.S. senator, left an eleven-day vacancy in the office prior to state senator Mike Beebe being sworn in on January 14. In December 2002, Huckabee announced the appointment of Johnson to fill the interim vacancy. Following his brief service as attorney general, Johnson returned to private practice.

Upon the death of U.S. circuit judge George Howard in 2007, Johnson was one of the top two of six contenders considered for appointment by President George W. Bush. Judge Brian S. Miller instead received the appointment.

In 2010, Johnson sought an open judgeship created by the retirement of his mentor and friend Judge Marion Humphrey. Johnson was unopposed in the nonpartisan judicial election and was reelected without opposition in 2016 and 2022.

Johnson serves on the Ronald McDonald House Board, on the Central Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute (CARTI) Board of Directors, and as a member of the Juvenile Justice Coalition.

Johnson and his wife Tamara live in Little Rock. They have two sons.

For additional information:
Forgrave, Reid. “LR Lawyer Picked to Take Pryor’s Post.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, December 30, 2002, pp. 1B, 6B.

Lynch, John. “LR Lawyer 1st to Seek to Replace Humphrey.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, January 23, 2010, p. 2B.

O’Neal, Rachel. “LR Lawyer to Finish out Term of Ousted Judge.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 3, 2000, pp. 1A, 14A.

Rowett, Michael. “Another Judge Recuses in Case to Disbar Clinton.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 6, 2000, pp. 1B, 5B.

Satter, Linda. “3 of 6 Up for Federal Judgeship Ruled Out.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 19, 2007, pp. 1B, 7B.

Wes Goodner
Little Rock, Arkansas


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