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From gang member to judge

Judge Anthony Johnson’s rollercoaster ride to Orange County Circuit Court Judge

Published: Saturday, February 28, 2009

Updated: Saturday, February 28, 2009 02:02


Being a Charter boat captain, hanging with a pagan biker gang and buying cocaine, were just some of the things Anthony Johnson did before becoming a Florida judge.

Johnson, an Orange County judge from the ninth judicial court, stopped by the Burnett Honors College to speak with students on Friday.

Almost 25 students attended the luncheon, which offered free food and over an hour of stories from Johnson's life as an undercover officer, secret service agent and Florida judge.

"I didn't intend to be a judge," said Johnson.

Johnson grew up in North Florida, but decided to try on a more big-city feeling by moving to Washington D.C. where he became a police officer.

"I rode a motorcycle because it was the only transportation I could afford," said Johnson.

This motorcycle proved to be more than just a form of transportation for Johnson—it became his new life.

While walking through the halls of the Vice Department at another precinct, fresh off his motorcycle and wearing blue jeans, Johnson was stopped by a Lieutenant Officer.

"He told me the area was for police units only and that I would have to move it," said Johnson.

Johnson explained he was an officer in which the Lieutenant responded, "How'd you like to work for Vice?"

He was told not to get a haircut or shave and his badge and gun were taken away from him and locked up in a safe.

Between 1971 and 1972, Johnson was assigned to one year undercover as part of a pagan motorcycle gang. His role was that of a drug dealer.

"It was the easiest job I ever had," said Johnson.

Johnson described some of his drug interactions and nonchalantly explained, "So, I'd buy some cocaine from Ricardo. If someone said Jimmy's got some heroine, I'd say "bring it on Jimmy.'"

Afterward, Johnson would meet in undisclosed locations with a fellow officer and provide as many details as he could about the interactions.

Aside from the drug deals, Johnson said he would mostly hang out in an adult club with the bikers "watching some really ugly girls take their clothes off."

This intense lifestyle came to a close after moving back to Florida and becoming an Orange County Sheriff.

"It was like going from the fast lane to the parking lot," Johnson said.

Though he said it was a pleasant change being at a calmer pace, this was short-lived since he was asked to be a U.S. Secret Service Agent shortly after. Johnson said he enjoyed being an agent "until they transferred me to New York City."

Johnson resigned from the secret service and began his legal career as a prosecutor back in Florida.

"I'm a Floridian, I like living here," Johnson said. He added, "I'd rather live under a bridge in the Keys and fish for Grouper rather than be mayor of New York City."

For a while, Johnson had also worked as a Charter boat captain, one of his many passions.

Jessica Glover, a Legal Studies pre-law major who attended the luncheon said she has found that other attorneys and judges, like Johnson, "actually took different routes before they got into the field of law."

"I thought it was pretty cool that he's interested in other things and he's not high-stressed all the time. He's involved in things he likes to do," said Glover.

Sean Kelly, a fourth year student, also found Johnson's stories to be interesting and found him to be "really personable."

"I liked him overall. It was cool to hear somebody from Florida doing all those things," said Kelly.

He added, however, that there were some comments Johnson made that "made it evident that he was a bachelor."

"I did notice he wasn't married, which probably allowed him to do more things than he would have if that wasn't the case," said Kelly.

When discussing some of the obstacles law students and lawyers may face, Johnson mentioned that women would have to think about who would take care of their children and may have to take time off if they were to decide to have kids.

"I think it was a dated comment," said Kelly, who felt the current resources available to women should be taken into account when making a general statement like the one Johnson made.

As a Judge, Johnson says there are misconceptions about his role and that of other judges.

"People see judges on TV and they think it's got to be an easy job," said Johnson.

Instead, he says it is more like "Lucy at the candy factory," referring to the famous I Love Lucy episode where she and her neighbor, Ethel, get a job at a chocolate factory. "Those cases are coming down that conveyor belt and you need to be able to handle it while doing a quality job of it. People's lives are involved and it has to be done properly."

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