No gavel required

Molly Johnson ’05

“Are you ready? Hey, are you ready for this?

Are you hanging on the edge of your seat?”

Molly Johnson ’05 jogs through the cold of early morning, Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust in her headphones setting the tone for a long day to come. Phones at the courthouse have been ringing all morning, journalists pressing staff about tonight’s high-profile domestic violence case. Review of a Court of Appeals opinion must wait; the police need a warrant for a drug case. Legal education seminar prep, suffragette costume fitting, political events—she might make it home after 8:00 for a dinner of chips and salsa. For the Mahoning County Court #5 judge, youngest to sit on two Ohio Supreme Court Commissions, a lot will happen in a day.

Johnson, full of music, characterizes the trajectory of her life with a line from the Pet Shop Boys: “I never dreamt that I would get to be the creature that I always meant to be.” Studying Communication, Spanish, and Philosophy at Denison before pursuing law, Johnson developed her knack for reaching an audience, for making connections, for negotiating. In 2018, no matter of luck, she emerged from a hotly competitive six-runner election with a fresh title: the Honorable Molly Johnson.

Spanish holds a special place for Johnson, who honed her skill abroad with professors Bernadita Llanos and Fernando Blanco. Today she sits on the Ohio Supreme Court Commission on Language Services. Its mission features a phrase that resonates throughout her work: facilitating communication. Johnson says of Spanish in the courtroom, “Appearing in court is intimidating for most people—let alone having to communicate in your non-native tongue. Being able to meet [people] in their native language is an incredible feeling.”

When freshly minted lawyers step up to brave their new world, Johnson is there to help them on the Ohio Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism. Its mentorship program pairs new, often overwhelmed lawyers with seasoned professionals.

Johnson’s service on both commissions and her work as judge reflect her sense of purpose: “My goal in life is not to be perfect but to leave the world a better place than I found it.” For those more interested in the crass material trappings of justice, Johnson says, “I do own a gavel. Fortunately I have never been forced to use it.”

Published July 2022