District Attorney, Alameda County District Attorney’s Office in Oakland, Calif.
Area of Practice: Criminal Law
Year Graduated: 2005
The daughter of an Oakland Police Department Correctional Officer, Venus Johnson knew from a relatively young age that she wanted to follow in her father's footsteps by pursuing a career in law enforcement. However, while Ms. Johnson's father fought illegal activity on the streets, she chose to enforce the law in the courtroom. "I used law school as a tool to make sure that I could go back to my community and make a difference," she explains.
Ms. Johnson was born in Oakland, California and grew up there. She left her hometown only to complete her education. At Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, she earned a Bachelor degree in Political Science with a minor in Philosophy. Next, Ms. Johnson moved to Sacramento to attend University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law. She remembers Professor Vitiello's Civil Procedure class as one of the best, and most challenging, experiences she had in law school. "[Professor Vitiello] really pushes you as a first-year student to challenge yourself. You have to be prepared and well-versed in class and ready to participate," she observes.
During her last two years of law school, Ms. Johnson was a member of the Mock Trial Competition Team, where she honed her advocacy skills by competing in trial competitions across the country. Her participation on the team helped prepare her for the summer clerkship she completed with the Alameda County District Attorney's Office after her second year of law school. That summer, Ms. Johnson handled a misdemeanor DUI jury trial. She also participated in felony preliminary hearings and wrote legal motions. Before she graduated from law school, Ms. Johnson was inducted into The Order of the Barristers and was named Student Trial Lawyer of the Year by the American Board of Trial Advocacy in recognition of her strong oral and written advocacy skills. She also received the McGeorge Outstanding Student Achievement in Trial Advocacy Award and the McGeorge Outstanding Scholastic Achievement Award.
After she completed her J.D. and was sworn into the State Bar of California, Ms. Johnson returned to Oakland to join the Alameda County District Attorney's Office as a prosecutor. She began her career on the misdemeanor trial team and moved through the office, ultimately trying a number of felony cases, including murder, robbery, rape, burglary, and assault cases. Subsequently, she moved to the sexual assault unit, a small team that handles "the county's most sensitive and serious child sexual assault cases." In the years since she graduated from McGeorge, Ms. Johnson has received numerous honors for her work, including the Rising Star Award from the Minority Bar Coalition of San Francisco and two awards from the Charles Houston Bar Association, an affiliate of the National Bar Association that represents the interests of African American lawyers, judges, and law students in Northern California. In 2010, the National Bar Association included Ms. Johnson on its list of the Nation's Best Advocates — 40 Lawyers Under 40. Ms. Johnson feels that prosecution is a good fit for her. "Not everyone has a job where you turn on the news and a crime is reported, and maybe two days later, the case that happened to be on the news is on your desk. I like that part because I actually feel like I'm having an impact and I'm involved in my community directly," she explains. Ms. Johnson also likes that she has the discretion to go forward with a case or not. Ms. Johnson recommends, "Make sure you find something that you're passionate about and go after that passion or desire. Don't do something just for the sake of saying, 'I did it.' We [attorneys] have a direct link to the public on a number of levels. Stay ethical and do something that you love."
Ms. Johnson has two additional pieces of advice for students who are interested in working as district attorneys. First, she suggests that they complete a clerkship during law school with a District Attorney, Attorney General, or U.S. Attorney's Office to prepare for a prosecutorial practice and demonstrate an interest in that field. Second, "Get a mentor. Get someone who you can speak to and who can direct you and guide you — someone who practices in the [geographic] area where you'd be interested in practicing." In addition to McGeorge CDO's Informal Alumni Mentor Network, she points out that some local bar associations have mentorship programs that help pair law students with attorneys who practice in the students' areas of interest.
Outside of the District Attorney's Office, Ms. Johnson remains active in her community. She is the President of the Charles Houston Bar Association and the Northern Regional Representative for the California Association of Black Lawyers. Ms. Johnson is also a member of Black Women Lawyers of Northern California, and she volunteers for Cinnamongirl, Inc., a mentoring program for girls of color in the Bay Area.