Stephen Ross Johnson (Knoxville, TN)

Stephen Ross Johnson (Knoxville, TN) Photo
Stephen Ross Johnson is a candidate for Treasurer in NACDL's 2022 election, nominated by the Nominating Committee.

Please consider me for Treasurer. I have been active in NACDL for over 20 years and served in multiple leadership roles touching on governance and policy.

In addition to being Treasurer since October of 2021, I am past president of the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (TACDL). Before being elected Treasurer in 2021, I was in my third term on NACDL’s board. I am Sixth Circuit vice-chair of NACDL’s amicus committee, chair of membership, Sixth Circuit coordinator for the strike force, on the Court Reopening Task Force, and on the budget, investment, white-collar defense, and sentencing committees. I served on the Risk Assessment Task Force and Rule 16.1 Task Force. I participated in the capital and indigent defense committees, drafted comments to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, and drafted and argued amicus briefs for NACDL.

I am a CJA panel attorney for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and the Eastern District of Tennessee and a capital defense trial attorney for the Tennessee Supreme Court. I founded and directed the Innocence Clinic at the University of Tennessee College of Law, where I supervised law students and other adjunct professors, drafted the post-conviction DNA statute in Tennessee, and provided direct representation to persons claiming actual innocence. Through the Clinic, I was involved in NACDL’s efforts with the Hair Microscopy Review Project and assisted with successful petitions the Clinic drafted for the Clemency Project, where I also served as a screener/reviewer for NACDL.

I took the innocence program out of the law school in 2018, incorporated the Tennessee Innocence Project (TIP), and helped draft an application that secured a 5-year grant of $1 million from a private foundation. I served as president of TIP until November 2021. Last year, in addition to individual donations, TIP secured a grant from a second foundation, a grant from DOJ BJA, and held a fundraising gala, all of which provided the resources to hire additional attorneys and staff members. This helped TIP reverse 3 wrongful homicide convictions in 2021 and draft and obtain codification of a new post-conviction fingerprint statute in Tennessee.

I have presented at CLEs for NACDL on jury selection, theme and theory with capital defense, and most recently the trial penalty. I have been invited to present on defense subpoenas and electronic evidence at the Advanced Criminal Law seminar in Aspen in 2023. In addition to my time and energy, I have shown my financial commitment through life membership and annual contributions to the Foundation for Criminal Justice.

During my time as a leader of NACDL’s membership committee, we have focused its work on recruitment and retention of younger lawyers, both those in private practice and public defenders, and more closely integrating with NACDL’s affiliates. Our membership has grown, reversing a long downward trend, and earlier this year I assisted in securing NACDL membership for all public defenders in Tennessee – over 400 new members. When I served as president of TACDL from 2011-2012, its membership nearly doubled through a similar effort, where we focused outreach on diversity, particularly in the Memphis area. NACDL now has more paid members than ever, and we are on the cusp of reaching 10,000 members.

I am honored to be a criminal defense trial and appellate lawyer. I bring enthusiasm, love of profession, respect for others, and commitment to service to all the positions I’ve held with NACDL, and I will continue to do so as Treasurer.

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