Eagle’s new municipal judge considers himself a ‘street lawyer’ | VailDaily.com

Eagle’s new municipal judge considers himself a ‘street lawyer’

Erik Johnson is a High Country Character

Attorney Erik Johnson practices in Eagle and he was recently appointed to serve as the community's municipal judge.
Pam Boyd/pboyd@vaildaily.com
EAGLE — Erik Johnson likes to think of himself as “street lawyer.” “That’s the kind of lawyer who works in the trenches. There is a kind of nobility to it and someone needs to do this work,” he said. For four years now, Johnson has been practicing law in the community and earlier this month he was named municipal judge in Eagle. “Some friend told me I should apply and I thought it would be a good fit at this time in my life and my career,” Johnson said. “I have been thinking about ways to serve this community I care about, and I am confident I am qualified to do the job. I think I can do some good.”

Early impressions

Johnson was born in Philidelphia and raised in eastern Pennsylvania. “We were close to large cities, but we were in the country,” he said. His childhood days were spent fishing, canoeing and playing sports. But there was one other interesting hallmark of his boyhood years — brushes with “The Greatest.” “Muhammed Ali had a training camp not far from where I grew up,” said Johnson. “He was one of the most famous people in the world, but I didn’t realize it at the time.” The Ali who Johnson came to know was a far different man than the brash boxer the world knew. “Ali was nothing like his public persona. That was all marketing. In person, he was quiet and thoughtful and kind. That is what I took away from meeting him,” Johnson said. Ali’s commitment to civil rights made an indelible impression on a young Johnson. At a very early age, he was contemplating the nuance of justice. “I was very bothered by injustice. Even as a teenager I attended lots of speeches, read many books and tried to meet activists. It took a long time before I was able to do something about it,” he said. When it came time to enroll in college, Johnson started out in a pre-law program. But he eventually switched majors to political science and journalism and earned a teaching certification. “I knew I would have to go work immediately after school,” he said. “And I taught school for one year, just outside of New York City. It was horrible.” By this time, Johnson’s parents had relocated to Colorado and he soon followed. “I started a logging company outside of Colorado Springs,’ he said. “Those were interesting, happy days. I was young and fit and free and making just enough money to do what I wanted to do.” He eventually married and started a family. But the work-related dangers and uncertainty associated with his logging career weren’t a good mix with family life. He decided to pursue his law degree and enrolled at the University of Denver. “I worked full time and went to school at night. I can’t say enough good about the program,” Johnson said. At that time, DU allowed its students to try cases under the supervision of a trial lawyer and Johnson loved the work. Eventually, he joined a law practice located in Loveland.

Work that matters

“I don’t think you can do this work unless you believe in it,” Johnson continued. “I believe that everyone deserves to be treated fairly. If they did the things that they are accused of, they need to be held accountable. But you need two equal, opposite sides to arrive at the truth.” During his career, Johnson has argued cases before the Colorado Court of Appeals and the Colorado Supreme Court. He figures he has won about 90 percent his jury trials. “In baseball, I would be in the Hall of Fame,” he joked. Johnson said his proudest professional moments have been at the conclusion of successful jury trials. “It’s an indescribable moment to hear ‘not guilty,'” Johnson said. “Of course it’s equally bad to get the other outcome. But any adventure without risk is no adventure at all.” Johnson’s own adventure took an unexpected turn about a decade ago when he met his current wife, Ellen. It resulted in big changes both personally and professionally as he fell in love with a woman and a community

New start

A decade ago, Johnson was practicing law at a well-established firm in Loveland, but a change was in the air. While he and Ellen were dating, he discovered Eagle and was enchanted. They were married eight years ago, and eventually, the couple decided to settle in Eagle. “I owned an office building and had a larger practice in Loveland. But the partnership broke up as partners retired and we sold the building,” he explained. “I considered retiring, but I love Eagle and have great friends here so I choose to move my practice. Although it wasn’t a smart move financially,  I love it.”

Johnson has practiced full-time in Eagle for four years now and said the change of scenery reignited his love of practicing law.

“For 25 years, I did divorces and civil litigation and I have cut all those things out of my practice. I am not going to fight about money anymore,” Johnson said. He now specializes in criminal justice and bankruptcy. “I deal with a higher percentage of people who are in distress,” said Johnson. “I really like my clients and I really like the judges and the courts up here.” He is excited about his new opportunity to view the courtroom from the other side of the bench as Eagle’s municipal judge. “I want to make sure people are treated fairly and held accountable,” Johnson said. “These are people who are clearly in distress and my job will be to hold people strictly accountable for what they are doing. I hope to do it in such a way that they understand why they are being held accountable.” In turn, Johnson knows he will get plenty of feedback — at the post office or grocery story — about the job he is doing “I know, personally, I’m going to be held accountable as well.”

Other adventures

When he isn’t practicing law, Johnson is an avid fly-fisherman and reader. “I typically read four or five books at the same time,” he said. He and Ellen love to travel and last year’s trips took them to England and Russia. “There are so many places to see,” he said. “Before I die I want to set foot on Africa and Antarctica.” Beyond his vocation, his interests and his activities, Johnson said family is his greatest joy. “What’s most important in my life is my family — Ellen and our four kids and five grandkids. Having grandkids has given me a renewed purpose in life” he said. “I have wonderful kids and they are all doing great,” he concluded.