Questions with the Judge – Forrest A. “Al” Johnson

Circuit Judge Forrest A. “Al” Johnson
Adams, Amite, Franklin, & Wilkinson Counties
6th Circuit District

Judge Johnson earned a B.A. and a J.D. from the University of Mississippi.

1. What do you like most and least about being a judge?

The thing I like most, far above anything else, is when a criminal defendant turns their life around, or truly learns a lesson from a brush with the law, then either thanks me sincerely in person, or sends a heartfelt letter to me, expressing their appreciation for another chance or not going harder on them. To me, nothing compares to it as a judge. The thing I like least is dealing with lawyers who are complete jerks. You find people like that in all walks of life, but it is always disappointing and unpleasant when I have to deal with them in the legal profession.

2. Identify one judge, living or dead, whom you admire the most and explain why?

It would be Adams County Chancellor Joseph Zuccaro, who later served on the Mississippi Supreme Court, and is deceased. As a young lawyer practicing in Natchez, I really admired Judge Zuccaro for his brilliant intellect, judgment and knowledge of people. He was so smart and so far ahead of everyone else about what was really going on in cases. He was like a magician in his black robe, bringing tough cases to reasonable conclusions, with as little blood-letting as possible.

3. What three suggestions would you give to a lawyer about how to improve their writing?

First, read Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style and know it as well as the rule book. Second, read your finished work out loud so you will know how it really sounds. Third, remove at least one-half of the BS, the statements, representations and conclusions that even you don’t believe.

4. What three suggestions would you give to a lawyer about how to present an effective case in your court?

Prepare well, be an absolute lady or gentleman at all times, and don’t insult me with BS.

5. If you could change any law or rule, what would it be?

I would change the law about competency, the insanity defense and how it is handled in criminal cases. Our lack of options and all or nothing approach, as far as guilt, does not make a lot of sense. There are too many guilty pleas and penitentiary sentences when defendants have serious mental issues. Yet, juries are reluctant not to convict when the crimes are serious and the defendant appears to be a danger to society.

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