Johnson Family Profile
PALM BEACH COUNTY BAR ASSOCIATION HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Family Profile: The Johnson Family
The Palm Beach County legal community gained a great family when A.R. Johnson moved to the County from East St. Louis in 1922. A.R. opened his law practice in the Comeau Building downtown concentrating mostly on collections. At home, A.R. raised six children, two of whom he persuaded to join him in the law. Judge Tom Johnson was called “Little Red” by his family and friends. Judge Johnson graduated as a four-letter athlete from Lake Worth High School in 1946 and joined the Marine Corps so that he could go to college on the GI Bill. Upon his graduation from the University of Miami near the top of his law school class, Judge Johnson returned to West Palm Beach to practice law with his father, A.R. and older brother, Bill. The year was 1953 and the County Bar Association had less than 100 lawyers as members.
In 1955, Judge Johnson was appointed Assistant County Solicitor under Chuck Nugent. The Solicitors prosecuted all criminal cases in the County except for first degree murder and rape which were within the domain of the State Attorney, Phil O’Connell, who was State Attorney for both Palm Beach and Broward Counties. These were considered part-time jobs but the State Attorney and Solicitors were so busy that they decided to work full-time even though the salary was less than $5,000. Law enforcement was preoccupied at this time with solving the murder mystery of Judge Chillingworth who Judge Johnson considered the best judge ever to serve in the County.
Judge Johnson’s tenure as Assistant County Solicitor was only the beginning of a career of public service. Governor Hayden Burns appointed Judge Johnson State Attorney in 1964. During his four-year tenure as State Attorney, Judge Johnson developed the reputation of a vigorous prosecutor who never lost one of his 35 murder trials. He returned to practice law with his brother in the Comeau Building for a brief period of time before winning a seat in the Florida Senate in 1970. In 1978, “Little Red” ran for circuit court judge for a two-year term, won that election, and served ably as circuit judge in Palm Beach County until his retirement in 1993.
Tom is the proud father of five sons all of whom were raised in the Catholic faith, grew up on Singer Island and followed the same scholastic path, attending St. Francis Elementary, Cardinal Newman High School, Palm Beach Community College, and Florida State University. Three of Tom’s sons followed their father and grandfather into the law and have been practicing in the county as members of the Bar Association since the early 1980's.
Joe Johnson has been a partner for over 25 years with the Babbitt, Johnson, Osborne & LeClainche, P.A. firm. Bob Johnson began his career in the State Attorney’s Office where he worked as Chief of Felony before Judge Mounts. Rob currently practices with the firm of Sellars, Marion and Bachi.
Bill Johnson practices as a solo practitioner in the areas of personal injury and wrongful death. Bill met his future wife, Laura, while attending FSU law school in the early 1980's. Laura Johnson, a native of Palm Beach County, practiced as a prosecutor in the State Attorney’s Office for 18 years where she was the head of Felony, and later, of the Domestic Violence Division before being elected county court judge in 2002 where she serves in the Criminal Division.
Our county and our Bar have benefitted greatly from the valuable contributions made by the lawyers, judges and public servants of the Johnson family for three generations ... and counting!