As scandals continue to engulf the District of Columbia's local government, a chapter closed today in another political corruption case that shocked the region last year. Jack Johnson, the former county executive of Prince George's County, Md., was formally disbarred (PDF) this morning by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.
Johnson is about five months into an 87-month jail sentence after pleading guilty last May to extortion and witness tampering charges. Johnson began his career as an attorney, earning his J.D. in 1975 and serving as the county's state's attorney before he was elected county executive in 2000. Federal agents raided his home and arrested him and his wife, former Prince George's County Councilwoman Leslie Johnson, on Nov. 12, 2010.
A member of the D.C. Bar since 1981, Johnson's membership was suspended in 2002 for non-payment of dues. According to a statement filed by the Office of Bar Counsel recommending disbarment, Johnson failed to notify bar counsel that he had pleaded guilty to a crime as required by bar rules. Disciplinary proceedings began in October as the criminal corruption case was proceeding against him in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.
In today's order, a three-judge panel disbarred Johnson for committing "crimes of moral turpitude." Judges Corrine Beckwith and Catharine Easterly and Senior Judge Frank Nebeker issued the per curiam opinion.
The court acknowledged that Johnson's case was "well-publicized," but found that the court didn't need to "delve into these distasteful facts" to reach a decision. Instead, the court looked at the charges Johnson pleaded guilty to, since disbarment is mandatory if the offense "manifestly involve[s] moral turpitude."
Attempted extortion and witness tampering "easily" met the criteria for crimes of moral turpitude, the court found.
"We elect our public officials and pay them a salary out of the public fisc so that they may serve the public — not so that they may take advantage of their elevated position to serve their own interests and line their own pockets," the judges wrote about the extortion charge.
As for the witness tampering charge, the judges wrote, "it goes without saying that purposefully destroying or concealing evidence, or even attempting to do so, is 'contrary to justice' and a grave threat to due process of law."
Johnson was charged with taking bribes totaling about $1 million in exchange for directing federal grant money to local developers. Leslie Johnson was charged with helping her husband cover up evidence. As federal agents descended on their home, a telephone call recoded by the FBI captured Jack Johnson telling his wife to flush a $100,000 check down the toilet and hide about $79,600 in cash in her underwear.
Leslie Johnson is serving about a year in jail after pleading guilty. She was a former administrative law judge in D.C. but wasn't a member of the D.C. Bar.
William "Billy" Martin of Washington Martin & Gitner, Johnson's lead counsel in the criminal case, was listed as Johnson's counsel in a disciplinary proceeding document, but he couldn't immediately be reached this morning.