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by: Marilyn Odendahl of TheindianaLawer.com
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.
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 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.