Karl E. Johnson, Jr.
Indian Country Today
Karl E. Johnson, Jr., 71, passed away suddenly on Monday, June 3, 2019, of complications from lung cancer. He was born in Oklahoma City on April 28, 1948.
Karl was predeceased by his parents Mavanee Johnson (nee Gooch) and Karl E. Johnson, Sr., of Oklahoma City. He is survived by his wife of 22 years, Michelle Giger; three daughters, Claire Johnson Raba and spouse Jaime Raba of San Leandro, CA; Sera Hurley and spouse Brendan Hurley of Sydney, Australia; and Ingrid Johnson and life partner Alexi Miller of Eugene, OR; brother Gary Johnson and spouse Libby Harding of Pacific Palisades, CA; and grandchildren Jonathan Karl and Gabriel Frances Raba and Rowan Linnea Miller.
Karl graduated from Northwest Classen High School in Oklahoma City, where he and his longtime debate partner Liz Herring (now Senator Elizabeth Warren) won the Oklahoma state championship in 1966. He was a National Merit Scholar and accepted a full scholarship to Williams College in Williamstown, MA. He also attended Central State University in Edmond, OK, and the University of Oklahoma in Norman, where he graduated in 1970 with a BA in philosophy. He earned his JD in 1979 from the University of Oregon in Eugene, where he graduated first in his law school class. He was a Paul Patterson Fellow in Law and Public Service and Order of the Coif.
Karl's first job after law school was as a Reginald Heber Smith Community Lawyer Fellow at DNA People's Legal Services in Window Rock, AZ, on the Navajo Reservation. From 1981 through 1987, Karl was an Associate Professor at the University of New Mexico School of Law in Albuquerque. He was in private practice in Albuquerque from 1987 until 1991, when he became Executive Director of the then-New Mexico Bar Foundation, now the Center for Civic Values, a nonprofit that managed the Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts, Domestic Violence Legal HELPline and the High School Mock Trial programs. He led the center until 1998, when he became Of Counsel at Kelly, Rammelkamp, Muehlenweg, PA. In 2000, he joined the Law Offices of Thomas E. Luebben, where he began practicing in the area of his true passion, Indian Law. In 2002 along with his partners he founded Johnson Barnhouse & Keegan, LLP . While at that firm, Karl's practice focused on litigation and negotiation of Native American land, water and natural resources issues; tribal attorney services; environmental law; and water law, land use planning, commercial, business and economic development matters. He served as managing partner from 2003 through 2017.
Karl cut back his practice significantly in 2018, so he and Michelle could spend more time traveling and being with their children and grandchildren.
During his career, Karl co-authored, or co-edited with Michelle, law-related education teacher resource manuals including Environmental Citizenship: Building a Healthy Community; The Struggle for Justice; and 21st Century Citizenship, as well as several high school mock trial cases that have been used across the U.S. and around the world. He was twice selected as an Outstanding Professor at UNM School of Law, first in 1984 and again in 1985. He received the Keep the Dream Alive Award from the Dr. Martin Luther King Multicultural Council, the Outstanding Lawyer of Albuquerque Award from the Albuquerque Bar Association, and the Pinnacle Award from the State Bar of New Mexico. He was a member of the Board of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, the Indian Law Section of the State Bar of New Mexico, and 1000 Friends of New Mexico. He also served on the Albuquerque Character Counts Leadership Council and the State Bar of New Mexico's Task Force on Minorities in the Profession and its Legal Services Committee.
As a lifelong Democrat, Karl was committed to a woman's right to choose, equal pay for equal work, LGBTQ equality, healthcare for all, protecting the planet and many other progressive ideals. He never met a stranger and was often referred to as Mr. Chamber of Commerce for his ready smile, friendly manner, and goofy sense of humor that kept his daughters in eye-rolling mode throughout their childhood. He enjoyed nearly all styles of music and had a massive collection. He loved traveling the world, and since 2003 he and Michelle visited more than 35 countries on four continents. His favorite place in the world was the Big Island of Hawai'i, where he had a deep love and abiding respect for the Native Hawai'ian people and their culture. He leaves behind a legacy of commitment to social justice and public service and a loving family who will miss him always.
In lieu of flowers, please direct contributions to the New Mexico State Bar Foundation for the Karl E. Johnson Indian Law Scholarship, PO Box 92860, Albuquerque, NM 87199-2860.