Drake University Law School is proud to add a portrait of the Honorable Janet Johnson, LW’72, to the Sutton Gallery of Distinguished Alumni. Johnson was selected as the first female judge on the Iowa Court of Appeals (1978-83) before becoming dean of Pace University Law School (1983-1989) and professor (1983-2011). Prior to becoming a judge she served on the Drake Law School faculty (1973-1978).
Johnson grew up on a farm in southwest Iowa, attended a one-room school house through seventh grade, later rode a bus to high school and then, interested in psychiatry but unsure of how to proceed, pursued nurses training. She left nursing school to marry and start a family. In 1962, the family moved to Chicago where Johnson pursued a degree in sociology and English literature at the University of Illinois – Chicago, graduating with honors in 1968.
The following year the family moved back to Iowa. As a sociology major, Johnson had developed a keen interest in many of the social movements of the time and saw law as a way to impact change. She entered Drake Law School, one of only six women at the time, graduating second in her class in 1972. She served for a year as staff counsel to the Iowa Crime Commission and then joined the Drake Law faculty in 1973, teaching Legal Writing, Torts, Family Law, Prisoner’s Rights, and a summer class in Commercial Law.
In 1978, Governor Robert D. Ray appointed Johnson to the Iowa Court of Appeals. She was the first woman to serve on the court. At the same time, Johnson began work toward an LLM in Judicial Process at the University of Virginia. She completed her degree in 1984.
After five years on the court, issuing over 300 judicial opinions, she accepted a position as dean of Pace University Law School in White Plains, N.Y. As dean, Johnson revamped the curriculum and helped develop programs in international and environmental law. In 1989, she left the dean’s position and became a full-time professor of law at Pace. She also served as director of academic programs for the Pace Women’s Justice Center. She was the associate dean at Pace Law School for the 2010-2011 academic year, then retired to return to Iowa.
“My family had never consulted a lawyer and I had never met one until my time at the University of Illinois,” said Johnson. “However, I was ignited when I was exposed to the pressing social issues explored in the study of sociology. Pursuing a law degree seemed the most effective way to be involved in the effort. Little did I know that a law school education would give one so many options to be of service.” She added, “Although lawyers are frequently the target of derogatory humor, my experience has led me to believe that lawyers who uphold the ethics of our profession are among the most needed actors in society. Few educational pursuits can offer more. I am grateful for the education at Drake Law School that prepared me to work and associate with the best.”
“We are proud of the impact Janet Johnson has had on the Iowa legal community and legal education,” said Jerry Anderson, dean of Drake University Law School. “We are honored to display her portrait with other extraordinary Drake Law graduates and look forward to an official portrait unveiling at the Supreme Court Celebration Banquet on April 2, 2022.”