Jeh Johnson’s career has been a mixture of successful private law practice and distinguished public service. In private practice, Mr. Johnson is a nationally recognized trial lawyer, having personally tried some of the highest stakes commercial cases of recent years. At age 47, he was elected a Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers. In public service, Mr. Johnson was appointed by President Obama to serve as the General Counsel of the Department of Defense (2009-2012), by President Clinton to serve as General Counsel of the Department of the Air Force (1998-2001), and he served as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York (1989-1991).
As General Counsel of the Defense Department in President
Obama's first term, Mr. Johnson was the senior lawyer for the
largest government agency in the world, responsible for the legal
work of more than 10,000 military and civilian lawyers.
With the nation in armed conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, and against
al-Qaeda during his tenure, Mr. Johnson was responsible for the
prior legal review and approval of every military operation
approved by the President and Secretary of Defense. Mr. Johnson is
credited with spear-heading reforms to the military
commissions system at Guantanamo Bay adopted by the Congress in
2009, and co-authoring the 250-page report that paved the way
for the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" by the Congress in 2010.
The report was hailed by the Washington Post editorial
page as a remarkable document for its "honest, thorough and
respectful handling of a delicate subject." Mr. Johnson's
November 2012 address at the Oxford Union in England, "The Conflict
Against al-Qaeda and Its Affiliates: How Will It End?," received
national and international press attention and wide editorial
In private practice in 1984-1988, 1992-1998, 2001-2008 and now,
Mr. Johnson has been a Paul Weiss litigator and civil and criminal
trial lawyer. His career as a trial lawyer began when he was
an Assistant U.S. Attorney. In three years as a federal
prosecutor, Mr. Johnson tried 12 jury cases and argued 11 appeals
before the Second Circuit. Building on that experience, Mr. Johnson
has continued to try significant civil and criminal cases in
Significant representations include:
- Citigroup in defense of a $900 million
arbitration claim, one of the largest ever filed with the NASD. Mr.
Johnson tried the case in Denver over three weeks, after which the
arbitrators dismissed all claims in their entirety. The
significant victory was reported in The Wall Street Journal.
- Salomon Smith Barney in defense of an $86
million arbitration claim. This NASD arbitration was tried in New
York over 25 days, after which the arbitrators dismissed all claims
in their entirety.
- Songwriters and music publishers in multi-week trial
proceedings before the Copyright Royalty Judges in Washington, D.C.
to set mechanical royalty rates for the music industry.
- Armstrong World Industries in a four-month
jury trial of an antitrust case in federal court in Newark. The
first trial of the case, by another law firm, resulted in a $220
million verdict against Armstrong. The court then granted a motion
for a new trial. Mr. Johnson and his colleagues retried the case
and obtained a defense verdict from the jury.
- In a one-month AAA commercial arbitration in Washington, D.C.,
after which his corporate client received an award of $33 million.
All claims of the adversary were dismissed in their entirety.
- One of the largest commercial banks in the world in a nine-week
jury trial in New York state court; the jury verdict for the
plaintiff was a small fraction of the $30 million sought.
- R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in a one-month
case in San Diego in a suit brought by the California Attorney
General concerning the company's advertising practices in the
- Gillette in the famed "razor wars" patent
infringement case against Energizer (Schick), before a federal jury
in Boston. The case settled on the eve of trial.
On the appellate front, Mr. Johnson argued and won
Gutierrez v. Johnson & Johnson, 523 F.3d 187
(3d Cir. 2008). Mr. Johnson also argued People ex rel.
Lockyer v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 116 Cal. App.
4th 1253, 11 Cal. Rptr. 3d 317 (2004), in California state
appellate court. While still an associate, Mr. Johnson personally
argued the appeal and prevailed in a large and complex securities
case, Shawmut Bank, N.A. v. Kress Associates, 33
F.3d 1477 (9th Cir. 1994). While a federal prosecutor, Mr. Johnson
argued United States v. Cea, 925 F.2d 56 (2d Cir.
1991), United States v. Oliveras, 905 F.2d 623
(2d Cir. 1990), and United States v. Griffin, 884
F.2d 655 (2d Cir. 1989), among other appellate cases.
Boards and Other Professional Affiliations
Mr. Johnson has been active in professional and community
activities. From 2001-04, he was Chair of the Judiciary Committee
of the New York City Bar Association, which rates and approves all
the federal, state and local judges in New York City, and he served
on the Executive Committee of the City Bar. Mr. Johnson is a
member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and has held the
position of director, trustee or governor at a number of prominent
organizations, including Adelphi University, the Federal Bar
Council, the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, the National
Institute of Military Justice, the Fund for Modern Courts, the New
York Community Trust, the Legal Aid Society, the Delta Sigma Theta
Research and Education Fund, the Vera Institute, the Lawyers'
Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the New York Hall of Science,
the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the New York City Bar Fund,
Inc. In 1995-97, he was an adjunct lecturer in trial practice at
Columbia Law School.