Carin Johnson – Transcript
[00:00:00] Louis Goodman: Hello, and welcome to love by lawyer. Talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers and what their experience has been. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect. Today, We welcome Carin Johnson to the pod. Over the past 25 years, Carin and her husband, Peter have built an aggressive litigation practice focusing on criminal law and juvenile justice.
They’ve also successfully raised three boys. I hope you’ll enjoy hearing her story. Carin Johnson, welcome to love thy lawyer. It’s. Such an honor to talk to you, and we’re very happy to have you on the program. You have a very impressive background and resume. And, where are you from [00:01:00] originally?
Carin Johnson: Originally, I’m from South San Francisco.
We called it South city. the industrial city. If you drive from San Francisco to the airport, you can see the big letters on big white cement letters on the mountains has South San Francisco. When I was a kid, I used to slide down those letters on cardboard.
Louis Goodman: And did, did you have like brothers and sisters who you did that with?
Carin Johnson: my older brother, my partner in crime, basically. I see.
Louis Goodman: Okay. Well, I hope the statute’s run on everything that you did. Did you go to school there at, in South San Francisco?
Carin Johnson: I did. I went through elementary school and middle school, Southwood junior high Ponderosa elementary school.
And then later on, I never went to El Camino high school. Because my mom moved over to the San Ramon area and then eventually quite quickly, I [00:02:00] moved to go live with my dad in a small town called fall river mills and went to school at the high school. They’re a very tiny, tiny
Louis Goodman: where’s fall river mills
Carin Johnson: fall river mills is about one hour South of Mount Shasta and an hour and a half East of Redding, California.
And it’s gorgeous. fly fishing is very popular there. In fact, when I was in high school, I worked at the fly fishing lodge down the road from my house.
Louis Goodman: So it sounds like you got some experience being a country girl too.
Carin Johnson: Yeah. So I’m a little country. I’m a little rock and roll. So there’s a little bit of me from both sides and anyone who knows me well will tell you that that’s.
Pretty spot on.
Louis Goodman: What high school did you graduate from?
Carin Johnson: I graduated from fall river, junior, senior high school in MacArthur, California. And that’s the little tiny town outside of the little tiny town of Fallbrook.
Louis Goodman: After you got out [00:03:00] of fall river high school, you went to
Carin Johnson: college. I did. So I used to take a bus from fall river mills to Redding, California every day.
They were, they had a bus to get the kids to college. And I went to Shasta junior college. Eventually I moved to Redding, California, about a year, I think, up for the bus, the bus trips, and then eventually moved to Chico state and finished and got my bachelor’s degree at Chico state. Universal.
Louis Goodman: How was your experience at Chico?
Carin Johnson: Well, we were the number one party school when I graduated as a C.
Louis Goodman: Was that because of you?
Carin Johnson: Mostly because of me. I studied really hard through college and I left all my easy classes for my senior year, so I can keep a great GPA and go to school full time party, full time. And
Louis Goodman: what sort of work did you do?
Carin Johnson: I was always waitressing. [00:04:00] I had usually had at least two days jobs, because I put myself through college and law school. I was always working two or three jobs. Well, yeah. Wow.
Louis Goodman: So you probably had to take a pay cut when you became a lawyer?
Carin Johnson: yeah. Well actually when I first became a lawyer, I was still catering for Marriott at their big facility in San Ramon because when I opened up my shop, I didn’t have a lot of money.
I, a junky old car, but I was able to be a lawyer full time and still get some extra money catering until my, lawyering took off.
Louis Goodman: Where did you go to law school?
Carin Johnson: I went to law school at golden gate university in San Francisco. That’s where I met my husband, Peter Johnson,
Louis Goodman: the luckiest guy in the world.
Carin Johnson: Pretty lucky.
Louis Goodman: When you graduated from law school, what was your first legal job?
Carin Johnson: My first legal job, [00:05:00] well, was working for myself. So I graduated law school. Took the bar. And, I had a ton of public defender applications on my desk because I really wanted to be a public defender. I wanted to, you know, I wanted to have like a hundred cases and I wanted to run through the court, hallways, you know, from one court to another, helping people that the government was stepping all over.
but I couldn’t. I couldn’t bring myself to fill out the forms because my whole life I’ve been filling out these job application forms, as a waitress and I didn’t want to do it anymore. So what I decided to do was just go into practice for myself. And when I did, I had $27. I’ll never forget it. I had $27 in the bank and, I opened up a practice in Hayward, California, Richard Stone, who is one of the most wonderful, most important people in my life.
To [00:06:00] this day, he offered me an office. He said, look it, if you help cover some of my court appearances, because I have too many, you can open up your practice right here in my bill and Hayward. And that’s what I did.
Louis Goodman: Started working as a defense attorney with Richard Stone as well. And it was a great experience and I learned so much from him.
How did you originally start thinking about going law school? I mean, why did you want to be a lawyer in the first place?
Carin Johnson: Well, people tell me, I don’t remember this, that I guess I said I always wanted to be a lawyer. When I was young and the first time, I remember it being, a definite path for me is when I kept seeing my brother and my stepbrother, getting arrested out of my home, where I live with them.
You know, the cops would come in and drag them out often. my brother had a lot of run ins with the law and it was always a little interesting to me as I listened to what happened and what was going on. And that’s [00:07:00] when I decided for sure that law would be my career path.
Louis Goodman: So you came out of law school, you didn’t want to fill out all those forms.
So you hung your shingle and, got some space with Richard Stone, and. How did things go after that?
Carin Johnson: Well, things went really well. I learned a lot from Mr. Stone. I was in his building for about, I think 10 years or nine years. He taught me how to literally, Be fearless. My husband also taught me how to not fear experts because I always thought they were scary once I had the, I guess, knowledge too, not be fearful of these.
Potentially tough circumstances as an attorney, I took off and Richard Stone was the first one. I think I was in his office for two weeks and he said, Hey, Carin, you want to be a trial lawyer. Right. And I said, yeah, I want to be a trial lawyer. And he hands me a file. And he [00:08:00] says, trial starts in five minutes upstairs.
And I tried my first case in front of judge Peggy Hora and the penalty for the case, if I lost was a hundred dollar fine for my client and stone just wanted to sort of, kind of break me in, I think, and throw me into my very first jury trial. And I absolutely loved
Louis Goodman: it. What kind of case was it?
Carin Johnson: It was a solicitation for prostitution case.
Louis Goodman: What was the result?
Carin Johnson: The result was my client was found guilty.
Louis Goodman: Did you do after that? I mean, give me like a brief history of your legal career because. You and your husband have really developed quite the practice.
Carin Johnson: Yeah, we have Peter and I are partners at the law offices of Johnson and Johnson, and we like to consider ourselves frontline trial attorneys.
Most of our cases go to trial. We welcome it. trial, cross examination is the engine [00:09:00] of truth. I believe that whole heartedly, you don’t get justice many times until you have a trial. Peter goes to trial all day long. I go to trial all day long. It’s kind of been what we’ve always done as lawyers.
We’re not really settlement types. We are very happy and comfortable being on the front lines. I try a lot of right now. I try a lot of dependency cases. Which is when the government takes your children from you. I get them back. I’m pretty fearless about that. I have a, a lot of very high-end cases where I’m dealing with intentional burns, strangulation, abusive head trauma, the old shaken baby syndrome, which has been debunked because the science was a bunch of, Bologna.
I deal with broken bone cases, all kinds of pretty high level. I call them high level because, they’re very tough.
Louis Goodman: Are the dependency cases in front of juries?
Carin Johnson: No, [00:10:00] they’re not. they’re not. So I wish they were. some States have jury trials for dependency cases. California does not, which frankly I find is extremely unfortunate.
And if there was something I could change about the system, it would be exactly that because when you impeach a social worker, it would count.
Louis Goodman: What do you really like about practicing law?
Carin Johnson: What I like about it is, I am able to provide strength to my clients. Strength to the families who feel defeated from day.
One, many times treated frankly like garbage by the system and I’m able to, protect them, fight for them and get them through the system with dignity. And I get their kids back. How has
Louis Goodman: actually practicing law met or differed from your original expectations when you got into the profession?
Carin Johnson: To tell you the [00:11:00] truth.
It’s quite what I expected. I wanted to be the lawyer that ran through the hallway with a ton of cases, shooting from the hip, I guess, but prepared at the same time. That’s what I wanted to do. And that’s what I ended up doing. I ended up just loving it, taking my cases and fighting really hard. What I do.
Louis Goodman: Tell me about a case that went really well for you?
Carin Johnson: A case that would really well for me is when I was, hired on the case in San Diego. My client had hired an attorney who I had offered to help for free train him on the science of phones, broken bones fractures, but he didn’t take a take me up on my offer.
when the trial started my client. Was texting me under the table, telling her things were going horrible. And I said, well, I can’t advise you. I’m not your lawyer. You’re the lawyer in the courtroom next to you is so she flew me, these [00:12:00] San Diego the next day with my paralegal who came with me because we had to get ready pretty fast.
We stayed up all night. I came in on the trial the very next day called an expert witness that. The day after that day, I had a bone expert on the stand. I lost the trial. I should have won the trial. I filed an appeal with the fourth district court of appeal. I got a unanimous reversal, because the court of appeal said, to not give this person a reversal would be a substantial injustice.
Well, then I tried the case again in front of another judge that I don’t know, maybe didn’t care so much. I lost again, which I should have won. I filed another appeal. With the fourth district court of appeal got another unanimous reversal and the child went home.
Louis Goodman: Great result.
Carin Johnson: Yeah, it was awesome.
Louis Goodman: You and [00:13:00] Peter have been practicing law and obviously you are in the business of practicing law.
And I’m wondering how that’s been for you
Carin Johnson: with my husband and practicing law.
Louis Goodman: Well, yeah. Working with your husband and then also the business, you know, where you get business from and, and taking care of just the money aspects of it. Cause it’s not easy.
Carin Johnson: No. So how we do it is Peter’s office has way up front in the office and mine is way in the back.
We sort of run a, two sides of the office.
Louis Goodman: You also have a family; you and Peter have kids.
Carin Johnson: Yeah, we have three boys. They’re giants.
Louis Goodman: How old are they now?
Carin Johnson: I have a 21-year-old or wait, I have a 22-year-old. I have a 20-year-old and I have a 15-year-old. Wow.
Louis Goodman: I bet that has been quite an experience during the practice of law.
Carin Johnson: Yeah, [00:14:00] so we have three boys. They’re awesome. and they get it. They were carried around on, on the hip while I had a deposition transcript and the other hand, they’ve spent a lot of time in the office when we had to get something done. They’ve seen us up at three in the morning working and they understand it.
So I think that my kids have developed a really good, I guess, work ethic because they see. It was just by accident. They see Peter and I working. We try to work when we, when they were little, we tried to work when they were sleeping and not so much when they were awake. So that’s where the three in the morning thing came from.
But we had the help of his family.
Louis Goodman: Do you think that the legal system dispenses justice, do you think it’s fair?
Carin Johnson: Well, I only think it’s fair when everyone leaves their confirmatory bias at the door only. You mean by that? [00:15:00] Well, many times you walk into a criminal courtroom and people assume the guy or the gal is guilty.
Cause they’re there. And that everything that goes into their head, everything, they hear everything they see many times just they see that in a, in a vision that confirms their bias. So if confirmatory biases were really left at the door, this goes for everyone, the judge, the government, the minor’s counsel, the prosecution, the jurors.
Then I think the justice system would work.
Louis Goodman: What I’m hearing you saying, correct me if I’m wrong, is that you think that it’s very difficult and unusual for people to leave their confirmatory biases at the door?
Carin Johnson: I do. I mean, I think the justice system does work. If you’re able to send them, send that message to leave it at the door.
I mean, even attorneys themselves have their own confirmatory biases and [00:16:00] you have to always check. That and even, even strategizing a case, I, for example, check that confirmatory bias.
Louis Goodman: You’ve done some teaching too, haven’t you?
Carin Johnson: Yes. I teach. Yeah. Every year at Los Madonnas college. and the juvenile class.
I love that. I also bring in a lot of interns, lawyers. I try to teach what I know, to other people. I love it. I reach out. And say, Hey, let me, let me teach you about, how to handle this broken bone subdural hematoma case. I’m in fact, I’m thinking about reaching out to a program and Hayward, where they have a lot of new lawyers and I’ve found them to be very, energetic and great.
And I want to. Go over there and sort of give him a rundown on how to handle these complex medical cases.
Louis Goodman: You’ve also sat as a judge pro tem. So you’ve seen the courtroom from the bench.
Carin Johnson: Yeah. Yes, I have. [00:17:00] I did a lot of that and Contra Costa County when they had the funding to have protons come in and give some of the judges a break.
I did it in juvenile court for a couple of different judges.
Louis Goodman: What was that like?
Carin Johnson: You know, I people ask me that all the time and I’m like, well, I’m more of a frontline fighter. I want to be the guy behind the counsel table fighting the case.
Louis Goodman: Do you think that the courtroom looks really different from the bench?
Carin Johnson: Oh, yes. It looks very different from the bench. Well, I think a little bit about, I guess disappointing.
Louis Goodman: Really. Okay.
Carin Johnson: Yeah, because I wanted to see, I want to see advocacy. I want to see people making good arguments, being prepared, and I wanted to see advocacy and I didn’t really see a lot of that. And it was disappointing.
Louis Goodman: So is there any things that you and Peter [00:18:00] like to do outside of practicing law?
Carin Johnson: Well, that’s funny because, yeah, we discovered not so long ago that Peter. Just his happy place is to fish. He’s a fisherman, and mine is to be on water. So
Louis Goodman: those could work together.
Carin Johnson: It’s like I said, you know, we should just get some little boat.
I can sit on the water and you can fish. What are we doing? So these are some of the things you’ve been talking about.
Louis Goodman: If you had a magic wand, you could change one thing in the world, legal world or otherwise. What do you think that would be?
Carin Johnson: judgment of people based on race culture? Gender identity or wealth.
Louis Goodman: What if you and Peter came into some real money? I mean like a couple of billion dollars. What, if anything, would you change about the way you live your life?
Carin Johnson: We would do. And we’ve talked about it is we would open our own innocence [00:19:00] project branch. we would hire a bunch of really tough, smart fighting lawyers, and we would.
Open that right up to the public and start looking at, people’s cases and helping them. We’ve talked about this several times.
Louis Goodman: Carin. There’s lots of things that I think we could continue talking about. I’ve really enjoyed our conference here today. Thank you so much for being unloved by lawyer. And I hope to see you again soon in court.
When, some of the craziness that’s been going on in the world passes.
Carin Johnson: Thank you, Louis. It was awesome talking to you as always.

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