Karl E. Johnson, Esq.
April 28, 1948 – June 3, 2019
Karl E. Johnson, Jr., died suddenly on June 3, 2019, of complications from cancer. He was Of Counsel at Barnhouse Keegan Solimon & West LLP, formerly Johnson Barnhouse & Keegan LLP, where he was the managing partner from 2003-2017. His Indian Law practice focused on commercial, construction, real estate, water rights, taxation and environmental matters, as well as general counsel representation of Indian tribes and tribal business enterprises in the western United States.
Karl began his legal career in 1979 as a Reginald Heber Smith Fellow with DNA – People's Legal Services on the Navajo Indian Reservation, working primarily in the area of consumer litigation. In 1981, he joined the faculty of the University of New Mexico School of Law, where for six years he taught courses in federal Indian law, commercial transactions, sales, business associations and jurisprudence, and supervised student transactional and trial work on more than 500 civil and criminal cases in the law school’s clinical education program. He twice received the law school’s Outstanding Professor award.
In 1987, Karl opened his own general civil practice, emphasizing commercial, business and real estate litigation and transactions, while continuing to serve on a part-time basis as an attorney advisor and visiting professor in the law school clinic. He also served for a number of years as executive director of the Center for Civic Values, a nonprofit that managed the Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts (IOLTA), Domestic Violence Legal HELPline and the New Mexico High School mock trial programs.
During his career, Karl co-authored, or co-edited with his wife Michelle Giger, law-related education teacher resource manuals including Environmental Citizenship: Building a Healthy Community; The Struggle for Justice; and 21st Century Citizenship, as well as several high school mock trial cases that have been used across the U.S. and around the world.
He received the Keep the Dream Alive Award from the Dr. Martin Luther King Multicultural Council, the Outstanding Lawyer of Albuquerque Award from the Albuquerque Bar Association, and the Pinnacle Award from the State Bar of New Mexico. He was a member of the Board of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, the Indian Law Section of the State Bar of New Mexico, and 1000 Friends of New Mexico. He also served on the Albuquerque Character Counts Leadership Council and the State Bar of New Mexico’s Task Force on Minorities in the Profession and its Legal Services Committee.
Karl attended Williams College, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Oregon School of Law, where he graduated Order of the Coif.
As a lifelong Democrat, Karl was committed to a woman’s right to choose, equal pay for equal work, LGBTQ equality, healthcare for all, protecting the planet and many other progressive ideals. He never met a stranger and was often referred to as Mr. Chamber of Commerce for his ready smile, friendly manner, and goofy sense of humor that kept his daughters in eye-rolling mode throughout their childhood. He enjoyed nearly all styles of music and had a massive collection. He loved traveling the world, and since 2003 he and Michelle visited more than 35 countries on four continents. His favorite place was the Big Island of Hawai’i, where he had a deep love and abiding respect for the native Hawai’ian people and their culture. He leaves behind a legacy of commitment to social justice and public service and a loving family who will miss him always.
A celebration of Karl’s life is scheduled on June 28, 2019, from 4 PM to 7 PM in the Courtyard of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque. If you plan to attend, please RSVP at https://karlejohnson.wixsite.com/website.
In lieu of flowers, please direct contributions to the New Mexico State Bar Foundation for the Karl E. Johnson Indian Law Scholarship, PO Box 92860, Albuquerque, NM 87199-2860. Alternatively, you may give online at https://form.jotform.com/sbnm/karl-johnson-indian-law-scholarship.