It's a wacky world, to say the least, and occasionally I end up writing about people I know and even like, despite the fact that what I have to tell you about them may not be flattering.
This time, it involves a fellow whom many in Phoenix legal circles and in the activist community know as Jameson Johnson, whose company, Southwest Litigation Support, does mitigation work for attorneys.
That means he researches an attorney's client's past and puts together a package to present to a judge before sentencing, in hopes of scoring a lighter sentence for the defendant.
By all accounts, Johnson is good at it. So much so that his services have been utilized by a number of well-known lawyers in town.
Johnson is an affable, intelligent, and articulate guy. Heretofore, he's been well known and liked around the federal courthouse and superior court by both law enforcement officials and defense attorneys.
His now-former girlfriend Joy Bertrand is a CJA, or Criminal Justice Act attorney, one on a list of such lawyers who represent federal defendants, and she has a sterling record as a legal beagle in Wisconsin and Arizona.
A former Special Assistant U.S. Attorney and former Assistant District Attorney in Milwaukee, Bertrand also has used Johnson for mitigation work.
I've known both of them from activist circles. For instance, Bertrand acted as a defense attorney for one of the "Capitol 9," the students arrested in April 2010 for chaining themselves to the Capitol building in protest of Senate Bill 1070.
Johnson was one of those who spoke out on behalf of Marcia Powell, the 48-year-old woman who died at Perryville Prison in 2009 after being left in a human cage for at least four hours in the blazing Arizona sun. He assisted in finding a final resting place for Powell and spoke at a memorial service for her.
Also in 2009, Johnson was instrumental in getting St. Mary's Food Bank to drop the use of off-duty Maricopa County sheriff's deputies near the facility. The fear being that the presence of MCSO cars and officers would deter some Latinos from taking advantage of the food bank's charity.
Johnson's been strident in his opposition to Sheriff Joe Arpaio and has expressed this to the Board of Supervisors during public comments at supervisors meetings.
Needless to say, both Johnson and Bertrand are beloved among local lefties, for the most part, as well as by some in the local Democratic Party.
Still, Johnson often cops a pro-law enforcement stance. He has vaguely described having been a cop in his past to me and to others. His Facebook page states that he was in the U.S. Navy from January 1987 to September 1998.
But Johnson has a few surprises in his past that he did not make public, and apparently kept secret even from Bertrand. According to court records, his name is actually Jimmy Carroll Johnson, and he has a criminal record in Nevada for armed robbery and in Oregon for second-degree robbery.
This information came to light in a public order recently issued by District Court Judge Neil Wake. Wake had previously authorized Johnson to render up to $2,400 in services to a defense attorney in a particular case.
But at some point, Wake was presented with information that Johnson was a convicted felon. In a sealed communication, he asked Johnson to appear before him and explain the criminal record. Johnson did not reply to Wake, so Wake issued an order, kicking Johnson off the case.
"The court concludes that Mr. Johnson is the same Jimmy Carroll Johnson, who is the subject of the two judgments of criminal convictions attached to this order," Wake wrote. "The court further finds that he failed to disclose those convictions to the court (or to defendant's counsel)."
The fallout from this incident has had broader implications than just for Johnson or any of the lawyers with whom he's been associated. District Court Chief Judge Roslyn Silver issued a general order earlier this month clarifying the requirements for non-licensed experts working for CJA attorneys.
Private investigators, medical experts, and the like must have their licensing confirmed by the lawyers. For those who do not need to be licensed — mitigators like Johnson — the lawyer has to at least present an accurate résumé. That is, if they want to submit a bill to the feds and get paid.
Following up on the documents attached to Wake's order, I was able to pull several mug shots from the police departments and penal institutions involved. Johnson was in the Nevada Department of Corrections' custody from May 18, 1993, to August 29, 1996.
This was for robbing a clothing store at gunpoint in Reno. According to reports from the Reno Police Department, after the robbery, he was arrested on an outstanding warrant for grand theft auto out of Idaho, though what happened with that case is unclear.