Johnson Receives CBA Award of Merit, 1121 COBJ, Vol. 50, No. 10 Pg. 47

PositionVol. 50, 10 [Page 47]

50 Colo.Law. 47

David M. Johnson Receives CBA Award of Merit

Vol. 50, No. 10 [Page 47]

Colorado Lawyer

November, 2021



CBA Past President David M. Johnson is this year's recipient of the Award of Merit, the association's highest honor. Johnson is known throughout the Colorado legal community for his civility, integrity, generosity, and spirit of service. As a lawyer, he's stood by clients through times of crisis and led many to a better future. And his leadership with grace has inspired new and experienced attorneys alike.

Criminal Defense Beginnings

Johnson has been practicing family law in Colorado for nearly four decades, but he began as a criminal defense attorney. "I lived in St. Louis and practiced there from 1976 to 1982. As a young lawyer, while I knew the substantive law and the procedural law, the reality of representing clients, dealing with prosecutors and police officers, and trying cases was a big learning curve."

"Back then law school offered very few clinical courses and you did not get much 'hands on' experience," he explains. "I worked during law school at the juvenile court in St. Louis as a booking officer, so I gained some real-world experience there and was able to try a juvenile criminal case as a 3L with supervision. I really enjoyed being in the courtroom and got to try a lot of cases as a young lawyer and knew that was my true calling."

Johnson recalls one of his early cases, a death penalty case he tried when he was only two-and-a-half years out of law school. "It was the first death penalty case tried in St. Louis after the Supreme Court lifted the moratorium on those cases in 1977.1 tried the case alone without an investigator. It was a very ugly crime—robbery of a family-owned grocery by three men, who killed the two owners and their 20-year-old daughter. The police had very little evidence to go on and did not make arrests for several months. Eventually, one of the men told his girlfriend about it when he was drunk, and she called the police. He then confessed and implicated the two other men."

Johnson's client was 18 years old, accused of doing the actual shooting in the store. "The other co-defendants tookplea deals andpointed the finger at my guy. My client had an alibi that he was home that day with his family. The jury found him guilty but did not impose the death penalty because I was able to introduce enough doubt about who the shooter really was. My client was sentenced to life without parole. The case was...

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