Bill Johnson, an L.A.-based international corporate lawyer who studied at Harvard Law before graduating from Columbia Law School, has twice before run unsuccessfully for political office, seeking congressional seats in Wyoming in 1989 and Arizona in 2006, and now he's quietly competing for an open seat on L.A. County's Superior Court bench.
BREAKING NEWS: Johnson loses race -- details in The God Blog
In a two-man competition against Superior Court Commissioner James N. Bianco, Johnson remains a dark horse, observers say. Still, the possibility that Johnson might win the 125th judicial office has sounded alarms in legal, political and activist circles.
"A competent judge is one who parks his politics at the courthouse steps. Someone who holds such racist views and flaunts them so obviously is in no position to block them out of his courtroom," said Bruce Einhorn, a retired immigration judge and national commissioner of the Anti-Defamation League. "It is far too dangerous to have such a person preside over the lives and liberties of people, particularly in a city as diverse as ours."
Johnson is rated "not qualified" by the L.A. County Bar Association, while his opponent is rated "well qualified" and was endorsed by the Los Angeles Times. But endorsements and Bar ratings don't always matter.
"People are voting on name and occupation. They make a split-second decision on a gut reaction," said Fred Huebscher, owner of the campaign consultancy, The Political Scientists. "You could be a judge in Los Angeles County who was convicted of drunk driving and censured or reprimanded by the Commission on Judicial Performance and get re-elected because nobody will know. It's impossible to get that message out."
Which is why for 18 years, a judicial incumbent hadn't lost a county race. That is, until the "exceptionally well-qualified" Dzintra Janavs, a more than 20-year-veteran of the bench with a foreign-sounding name, was defeated in 2006 by "not qualified" Lynn D. Olson, an inactive attorney who had spent most of the previous 10 years running a Manhattan Beach bagel shop.
Bianco, however, has a significant advantage in this race, Huebscher said. As a commissioner, he's already handling many of the responsibilities he would have if elected judge. Additionally, Huebscher said, "people know the name Superior Court," which they will see next to his name on the ballot, one reason commissioners fare best, along with prosecutors, in open races.
But because many choose not to vote for judicial candidates and turnout is expected to be low due to few contested representative races, it would only take a strong outpouring of loyal supporters to sweep Johnson onto the bench -- not a stretch when considering that his campaign manager is also the state coordinator of Ron Paul for President.
Johnson has long been an enigma to outsiders, shunning press requests, including those from The Jewish Journal for this article, and offering only vague biographical details on his campaign Web site.
"For the last 25 years, Bill has provided legal aid to individuals at every income level to help them solve their legal problems, both in the courtroom and before administrative hearings," his bio, in part, states. "Bill has been married for over 25 years to his wife, Lois, with whom he has five children. They live on a 78 acre ranch in La Cañada where the family raises horses, cows and alpacas."
But a few weeks ago, the Metropolitan News-Enterprise, a newspaper catering to the legal community, dug deep into Johnson's past, piecing together disparate details and reports from the last three decades.
The "mystery man," as the Arizona Daily Star called him in 2006, used a different variation of his full name -- William Daniel Johnson -- in each of his three campaigns and a pseudonym, James O. Pace, in authoring the 1985 book, "Amendment to the Constitution," which advocated repealing the 14th and 15th amendments because of guarantees of citizenship and equal rights to nonwhites.
"The 'Pace Amendment' would add this verbiage," the paper reported:
"'No person shall be a citizen of the United States unless he is a non-Hispanic white of the European race, in whom there is no ascertainable trace of Negro blood, nor more than one-eighth Mongolian, Asian, Asia Minor, Middle Eastern, Semitic, Near Eastern, American Indian, Malay or other non-European or non-white blood, provided that Hispanic whites, defined as anyone with an Hispanic ancestor, may be citizens if, in addition to meeting the aforesaid ascertainable trace and percentage tests, they are in appearance indistinguishable from Americans whose ancestral home is in the British Isles or Northwestern Europe. Only citizens shall have the right and privilege to reside permanently in the United States.'"
These sentiments seem deep-seated in Johnson's politics.
When he ran in a special election to fill Dick Cheney's Wyoming congressional seat, Johnson, having just taken residence in Casper, was quoted as saying, "Whites don't have a future here in this country, and that is ... one of many issues that I am addressing." The Metropolitan News reported that Johnson was endorsed by a publication of the Nationalist Movement, and his campaign managers were both involved with the Ku Klux Klan, the first an organizer and the second a former Grand Dragon in Texas.
Two years ago, promoting the same values and trying to capitalize on anti-immigration attitudes exemplified by the Minutemen Project, Johnson sought a congressional seat representing Arizona. Granting a rare interview, he told the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix that Israel's best chance for survival would be, essentially, to adopt the Pace Amendment model.
"In 20 years," he said, "Israel will cease to exist unless Israel deports all non-Jews from its borders [and] establishes a demilitarized zone around the country; America and Europe repatriate their anti-Israel Arab/Muslim populations; and Israel renews its efforts to call Jews home. Israel's policy should be to encourage all Jews in America ... who desire the continued existence of Israel to emigrate there."Johnson said at the time that he was a "traditional Democrat," interested in returning the party to its "historical core," which the Web site, Blog for Arizona, termed "a ploy by extremist racists to inject their hateful invective into the Democratic primary process to make their xenophobic ranting seem bipartisan, and thus mainstream."
He earned 3 percent of the vote in the primary.
"Those are not Democratic values, in fact I don't think those are values of any political persuasion," said Jeff Daar, co-chair of the committee that reviews judicial endorsements for the L.A. County Democratic Party, which sent Johnson a questionnaire that wasn't returned.
"From everything we know, we don't need a judge like Mr. Johnson," Daar said. "We have a good candidate, and we have a really scary candidate."