Andrew Johnson says he always knew he’d become a lawyer, just like his father, prominent Roseburg attorney Darryl Johnson.
He breezed through college and law school in Eugene with good grades, passed the bar and moved back to his hometown ready — or so he thought — to make a name for himself. But fellow attorney David Terry says that in those first few months, Johnson showed himself to be oblivious to the major differences between studying and practicing law.
“He was insufferable,” said Terry. “He just really didn’t get it.”
Terry says that over two decades he’s watched Johnson transform from clueless kid to one of the city’s best and most respected attorneys.
“Bless his heart, he got it,” Terry said. “He got to a place where he realized that he didn’t know everything and started over, just completely rededicated himself.
“That’s what led to his success.”
Recognizable to many in town by his colorful wardrobe, Johnson, 45, is a local original and homegrown success story.
Andrew Johnson, or “Andy,” as he’s known to friends, was born and raised in Roseburg. Except for his stint at the University of Oregon, he’s always lived here.
His dad and mom, Janie, had two other sons. Both live in Portland. The oldest is a dentist and the youngest is an engineer.
Their middle son, however, never saw himself in the big city. Growing up, he said, he listened to classmates put down Roseburg, swearing they’d leave the first chance they got and never come back.
“I was never like that,” he said. “I always knew I’d be back.”
He was admitted to the Oregon State Bar in 1992.
Like any good small-town lawyer, Johnson has had to master multiple areas of law and take whatever cases walk through his door. He said he never imagined he’d be involved in so many divorce and child-custody cases, but that’s where the work is in Douglas County.
Johnson represents criminal defendants as well, along with serving as magistrate for municipal courts in Sutherlin and Winston.
Johnson said he knows divorce attorneys are disliked by their clients’ spouses. It’s one of the reasons he works hard to feel sympathy for the people whose lives are being radically altered by the court system.
He still remembers the husband of his first divorce client.
One night at a bar, the man walked up to Johnson and confronted him. Johnson says he stayed seated at his bar stool, told the man he was just doing his job and that it wasn’t personal. The encounter ended with a handshake “and that was the end of it.”
“I try to have good relationships with all the people I work with. It’s helpful for my client, and it’s good for the other attorneys in town,” he said.
A contested divorce in Douglas County can take six to 18 weeks to work its way through the courts. With the lifestyle changes associated with a divorce, not to mention child custody issues, Johnson says the whole process can be an incredibly emotional and alienating event.
The worst, he says, are the men and women who come into his office who are still in love and never saw it coming. They often need more help than a lawyer can give.
“You feel bad for somebody like that,” he said. “Sometimes they just need someone to talk to.”
He and his wife, Adrianne, first met at a local health club. They now live on Fisher Road, near the Roseburg Country Club, where’s he’s a longtime member.
His son Alex, 16, is a sophomore on the honor roll and could be the third generation of lawyering Johnsons, his father says.
Johnson loves Coors Light, golf and the Oregon Ducks. He’s a big booster of University of Oregon athletics and attends every home football game.
He said handling so many divorces has helped him appreciate his own family and his own good fortune.
Since becoming an established member of the profession, he’s helped other lawyers get their start.
Family and criminal defense lawyer Jason Mahan met Johnson in 2001 when he was an intern in the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office. For his first case, Mahan was given a misdemeanor case that went to a jury trial. The facts are now a bit hazy to Mahan, but he remembers his opponent — Johnson — and the outcome.
“He beat me,” Mahan said.
Mahan said Johnson was supportive, friendly and professional to him as a young lawyer. He said he still calls Johnson for advice on tough cases.
District Attorney Rick Wesenberg started practicing law in Douglas County at around the same time as Johnson.
Wesenberg called Johnson a “worthy opponent.”
“He’s a very well-respected member of our bar and of our community,” Wesenberg said.
It’s no secret Andrew Johnson is an expressive dresser. His might be the only white snakeskin loafers you’ll ever see in Douglas County. But early in his career he wore a dark suit and white button-down shirt every day.
As his confidence grew, he said, so did the contents of his closet, which his wife claims is larger than hers.
When he showed up for a recent case in another county, Johnson was surprised to be recognized right away by his opposing counsel, whom he’d never met.
“They all knew who I was based on my shoes,” Johnson said. “Apparently my wardrobe had preceded me.”
Not all combinations work, he said. Before going to work Friday, he tried out a tie with diagonal stripes over a shirt with vertical ones, but it just didn’t look right.
As a rule, he said, polka dots go well with stripes. He tries to match his shoes to his tie, though the pairings can seem a bit mind-bending. On Friday it was fuzzy dots over blue and yellow stripes.
“I usually wear black pants,” he said “I can make those work with anything.”
• You can reach reporter Garrett Andrews at 541-957-4218 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
He got to a place where he realized that he didn’t know everything and started over, just completely rededicated himself.
That’s what led to his success.
fellow Roseburg attorney