Name and location of repository
Level of description
Oral history interview with Lee Johnson
- 1992-04-20 - 1992-09-29 (Creation)
.1 cubic feet 21 audiocassettes (19 hr., 57 min., 12 sec.) + 2 photographs (color ; 4 x 6 in.)
Name of creator
Robertson Lee Johnson was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1930. His father managed a sawmill in Toledo, Oregon, where he spent most of his childhood. His family relocated to Portland when Johnson was 11 years old. He attended prep school in New Jersey, then attended Princeton. In 1953, he joined the U.S. Navy and served as a staff communications officer. After leaving the Navy in 1956, he attended Stanford Law School, graduating in 1959. He grew up with Dorothy Marie Miller, and the two began dating while Johnson was in the Navy. They married in 1956 and later had five children. Johnson worked for the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., right after graduating from Stanford. After a few years, he returned to Oregon, practiced law in Portland, and entered politics. Johnson, a Republican, represented Multnomah County in the Oregon House of Representatives from 1965 to 1968 and was attorney general for Oregon from 1969 to 1975. He was briefly a judge on the Oregon Court of Appeals, from 1977 to 1978, then he worked in the administration of Governor Vic Atiyeh. Subsequently, he served as a judge on the Multnomah County Circuit Court from 1983 to 1995. He died in 2009.
Name of creator
Content and structure elements
Scope and content
This oral history interview with Lee Johnson was conducted by Clark Hansen at Johnson's home, as well as his office, in Portland, Oregon, from April 20 to September 29, 1992. In this interview, Johnson discusses his family background and early life in Toledo, Oregon, during the Depression; he likens Toledo to a company town. He talks about moving to Portland at the age of 11, then attending prep school in New Jersey, and Princeton after that. He discusses how his education at Princeton changed his political outlook, and talks about volunteering for the Navy after the Korean War. He then talks about studying law at Stanford, including his interest in antitrust law, his involvement with the Law Review, and starting a family with his wife, Dorothy Marie Miller. He goes on to discuss his brief stint as a trial lawyer for the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., under both the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, as well as practicing law in Portland. He briefly describes many of the judges before whom he argued cases. He talks about his involvement with the Trumpeters and the Republican Party.
Johnson discusses serving in the Oregon House of Representatives from 1965 to 1968, including campaigning, advocating for a sales tax, and his views on decriminalizing drugs. He also talks about some of the legislators he served with, including Monte Montgomery and Harry Boivin. He also speaks about Governor Mark Hatfield's administration; reapportionment; and the constitutionality of the Beach Bill. He then discusses serving as attorney general for Oregon from 1969 to 1975, particularly his campaigns. He also discusses some of the cases he prosecuted, his staff, and recruiting lawyers. He also speaks at length about the passage of the Bottle Bill. He discusses working in Governor Tom McCall's administration, as well as Governor Bob Straub's; his rivalry with Clay Myers; and working with George Van Hoomisen. He also talks about his work on cases regarding welfare reforms, particularly to help single mothers; antitrust law; regulation of fisheries; and crime prevention. He speaks often about the working relationship the district attorney's office had with the Oregon Legislature. He also describes his DUI arrest and the resulting trial; the gun control debate; the prison system and capital punishment; and whistleblower protections.
Johnson discusses his partial term as a judge on the Oregon Court of Appeals from 1977 to 1978, including his campaigns, the role of the judiciary, and working with juries. He also discusses judges he worked with, including Jacob Tanzer, Jason Lee, Hans Linde and Herb Schwabe. He talks about judicial decisions, including on abortion; procedures of the court; continuing education; the relationship between courts of different levels; and his views on the role of judges. He speaks at length about his time working for the administration of Governor Vic Atiyeh, as well as changes in the Legislature. He then talks about serving on the Multnomah County Circuit Court of Appeals from 1983 up to the time of the interview in 1992, including cases he worked on, his colleagues, and staff. He talks about how legislation has affected the job of judges, including the war on drugs, liability laws, and sentencing guidelines. He closes the interview with a discussion of the members of the Oregon delegation to Congress.
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Conditions governing access
Joint copyright held by the Oregon Historical Society and the U.S. District Court of Oregon Historical Society. In Copyright – Educational Use Permitted statement: http://rightsstatements.org/vocab/InC-EDU/1.0/
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Existence and location of originals
Existence and location of copies
Related archival materials
Lee Johnson papers, Mss 1833, Oregon Historical Society Research Library.
U.S. District Court of Oregon Historical Society collection, Coll 560, Oregon Historical Society Research Library.
Preferred citation: Oral history interview with Lee Johnson, by Clark Hansen, SR 1116, Oregon Historical Society Research Library.
Forms part of the United States District Court Oral History Project.
Incomplete transcript (133 pages) is available for in-person use at the Oregon Historical Society Research Library.
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Rules or conventions
Finding aid based on DACS (Describing Archives: A Content Standard), 2nd Edition.