Moving Out of the Crosshairs

Former state senator Gary Johnson on leaving the public arena  

Published in 2008 Kentucky Super Lawyers — August 2008

Politics is hard work—especially when you only have 24 hours in the day. Between 1996 and 2000, Gary C. Johnson served as a Kentucky state senator (this following almost 20 years as the county attorney for Pike County) and the chairman of the state Democratic Majority Caucus, all while maintaining his nationally recognized, eponymous firm. It wasn't easy. He describes his political experience as working full-time at a part-time job while having a giant target on his back.

The experience did, however, make Johnson a better lawyer. The secret, he says, is that politics forced him to get out of the office once in a while. "I had to go see how people lived and find out what people were thinking," he says. "You can lose sight of what reality is right quick in this world if you're not out there seeing the day-in, day-out struggles that people have."

Many of the people Johnson saw face those struggles were low-income coal miners. So, while in office, he worked to help regular folks by, for example, changing the protocol for legal cases filed in the wrong jurisdiction. "Used to be, if you filed a case in the wrong jurisdiction, the only recourse was to dismiss the case," he says. "If you [already] had a statute of limitations problem, that could ruin you. I got that changed so the court can transfer it rather than dismiss it."

The desire to stick up for the little guy stayed with Johnson when he went back to being a full-time lawyer. Today, his firm runs a public-service program that provides 30 minutes of free over-the-phone legal advice to people who can't afford to hire a lawyer.

Would he ever return to politics? "No, no, no," Johnson says. "It doesn't matter what you do or don't do, it's just flat not worth it. Not to me anymore, it's not."

His clients are likely just fine with that.

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