Across the Bar is a publication of the San Joaquin County Bar Association, providing local legal news, educational content, and information about Bar Association events.

Under Oath: Honorable William Johnson and Cheryl Jacobsen

Johnson-jacobsen

For a new spin on an old article, we decided to interview Judge Johnson alongside his Wife Cheryl Jacobsen. We met in Department 32 Judge's chambers and enjoyed the view of the new court house as we began.


Q. What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A. As if on cue, they both rolled their eyes simultaneously. "I told you, Cheryl," Judge Johnson teased, "there are going to be a lot of "gotcha" questions!" Through Cheryl's laughing, he dramatically intoned, "How about walking on the beach…. discussing world peace?" Humored by her husband's comments, Cheryl took a more serious tone. "Happiness is what we have; spending time with family and having enough financially to be able to."


Q. What is your greatest fear?

A. They drew quiet for a moment. Then Cheryl broke the silence. "Well, I know what his fear is," she paused. "His fear is that I go first!" Judge Johnson gave a gentle smile with a confirming nod. "Probably losing one of my kids," Cheryl said of her own greatest fear. "That would be… well, that would just be awful."


Q. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

A. Foreheads wrinkled deep in thought, Cheryl suggested, "I guess I don't have a lot of patience. I can't deal well with stupidity." Judge Johnson was still struggling with an answer when he stated, "My worst habit? Geez, I am trying to narrow it down. Oh let me count the ways!" He chuckled, "Well, let's just leave it at that. There are too many!"


Q. What is the trait you most deplore in others?

A. Not a full second passed before Judge Johnson delivered his answer. "Dishonesty." Nodding her head, Cheryl said, "Ditto, dishonesty." Judge Johnson continued, "And, also, rudeness; a general lack of civility. I could go on and give examples, but I wouldn't want to ruin our career," he joked. "Too late for that! My career is over!" Cheryl teased in reference to her recent retirement. When asked how the transition was going, she humbly said, "Well, I am still getting used to it, but retirement is getting paid NOT to work, so it's quite an adjustment. I have been able to do things I never had time to do before, but I'm still transitioning."


Q. What is your greatest extravagance?

A. "Our travel," Cheryl began, "wouldn't you say?" "Yes, probably," Judge Johnson agreed. "That and your bathroom." Cheryl explained that they were finally getting to remodel their bathroom which was much needed, and its completion is being awaited with great anticipation.


Q. What is your favorite journey?

A. "Life," Judge Johnson replied. "Life is journey. From where we started to where are now; it's really never ending. It's been a roller coaster ride, with ups and downs, but it's been a good one." Cheryl nodded in agreement. "I guess if you think about it, it's all about the ride, and if you're still in the car and haven't puked all over yourself yet, it's not too bad!" After the laughter subsided I asked, "What if you picked a place?" "Whew," Cheryl pondered, "you know, it changes every year." "Yes, for example when our kids were young it was Hawaii and Mexico, we had a lot of fun there, the kids really enjoyed it," added Judge Johnson. "But now that they are gone, it seems to be wherever we go!" "Yes," Cheryl continued completing her husband's thought. "Our favorite place seems to be where we visited that year. It was Japan, and before that Aero Denmark. We will be going to Ireland, I am sure that will then be our favorite. And Bill, you liked Hvar Island in Croatia." "Yes," he explained, "it was fascinating to see, for example, Diocletion's Palace in Split, Croatia where one was civilization built on top of another, which was built on top of another and so on. Being able to see all those layers, it's just remarkable!"


Q. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

A. "Well, I guess it's not really a 'virtue,' but people with an 'overdone' intellect. People who are too smart and rely on that too heavily instead of learning how to work with other people or get along. They just don't get it, or don't care to, and it's almost as if they can't function with the rest of society." Nodding in agreement, Judge Johnson added, "Arrogance and a lack of humility."


Q. What do you dislike most about your appearance?

A. Judge Johnson cracked a smile while Cheryl giggled as they exchanged a "what-did-we-get-ourselves-into" glance. "I guess I could stand to lose a few pounds," Cheryl suggested. "And I wish I had hair!" Judge Johnson spouted. "And my eyes, I wish that I could see! I always wanted to play baseball, but my vision was so bad, it was like playing with Coke bottles on my eyes. I would see two flying baseballs where they would only be one… it's really hard to play like that. But I would have liked to play ball." With an air of optimism, Cheryl offered, "But if you would have played ball, you probably would have gone to military school, and you never would have moved to Seattle, you never would have gone to school, and you wouldn't have met me!" With an undeniable loving smile, Judge Johnson nodded, confirming that maybe his poor eyesight was a blessing after all. "But I'd still like to have hair!"


Q. Which words of phrases do you most overuse?

A. Caught off-guard by this question, they both racked their minds for a response. Judge Johnson was the first to confess, "I don't know! You would really have to ask the people I work with." We joked about harassing his court clerk for the answer, but decided against it. Cheryl explained, "We have become so aware of our speech, I mean EVERYTHING gets written down." Judge Johnson interjected, "Yes, and when you see the first transcript and you answered 'OK' at the end of every question, you will be particularly more aware of how you speak. You'll never say 'ok' again!" Cheryl continued, "With a large portion of our lives 'on the record' we have become very conscious of our word choices and speak very intentionally and deliberately."


Q. What is your greatest regret?

A. With a sly smile Cheryl, jumped to answer. "Not winning the lotto!" We all agreed that was a 'regret' we all had. "I can't say I have any regrets," Judge Johnson said. "I mean there have been ups and downs, but no regrets. And I joke that I wanted to be a Major League Baseball player, but because of my eyes, it wasn't even going to happen; not in a million years. But I am happy with the way my life has gone."


Q. What or who is the greatest love of your life?

A. As expected, they both point to each other. Then Judge Johnson added, "And Charlie." "Who's Charlie?" I asked, slightly confused. Grinning with pride, he answered, "My nine month old granddaughter." "We both agreed that grandchildren trump our kids," Cheryl joked. "It is nice when they are not your responsibility and are so cute, they just can't do anything wrong."


Q. When and where were you happiest?

A. "Here and now," Cheryl stated. Expanding on his wife's statement, Judge Johnson explained, "It's a continuum. Graduation from law school was the happiest moment, and then it was passing the bar exam. After that the happiest day was when we got married, and then the birth of each of our kids. Then our son got married and now we have a granddaughter. It just doesn't stop."


Q. Which talent would you most like to have?

A. With eyes full of excitement Judge Johnson laid his forearms on his desk and leaned forward and said, "A musician!" I inquired if he had a specific instrument in mind. "Any, I just wish I was talented in that area. I played sax, but I was terrible!" "Tone deaf!" Cheryl teased with a hint of seriousness. "And what about you?" I asked Cheryl. "The same," she answered. "I would like to play piano, but I know I can't!"


Q. If you were to die and come back as a person or thing what would you like to be?

A. Judge Johnson lifted his arms and said, "An endless wave forever crashing on the beach. Or a huge redwood tree in the forest." "Yes, you can live hundreds of years being abused!" Cheryl teased. He furrowed his brow at her, but his smile betrayed his masquerading scowl. "And what about you Cheryl?" I asked. "Oh, I was hoping you would skip me!" After a few moments of contemplation, she replied, "I guess our dog had a pretty good life. She was the boss of the family. She was a boxer. She just ran the roost!" "I had a dog while in law school and had her when we got married," Judge Johnson elaborated. "She passed away when our boys were around 2 and 4 years old. We were heartbroken. We got another dog that didn't work out and I decided NO MORE DOGS! "But then Christmas came and the 'kids'," he said, eyeing Cheryl, "got me a dog, our boxer, and she was just the sweetest dog. We miss her."


Q. What is your most treasured possession?

A. "Probably my coin collection," Judge Johnson admitted. "I love old coins and I have also been collecting the silver dollars." "He's been collecting them for years! His favorite is the Walking Liberty silver dollars," Cheryl said, as if revealing his secret. "I guess mine would be my wedding ring. After we were burglarized and lost everything, and I just never went back to seeing items as something that precious, it can all be taken away."


Q. What is your favorite occupation?

A. Judge Johnson lifted his hand in a questioning pose and said, "I'm doing it!" "I did it!" Cheryl laughed. "Not a professional baseball player?" I inquired. "That was never a real occupation for me, I wasn't good enough," Judge Johnson replied. "But I wanted to be a lawyer since I was a little kid. And now that I am a judge and I don't have to worry about the business side of a law practice, it's the perfect job!" I asked Cheryl when she knew she wanted to become an attorney and she responded, "Probably when I was 14 or 15. I wanted to give a voice to the children and victims, people who couldn't find a voice for themselves."


Q. What is your most marked characteristic?

A. Cheryl laughed, "That is probably the kinder, gentler Cheryl. But you," pointing to her husband, "everyone loves you!" Humbly, he responded without trying to accept the compliment. "I try to be civil. I try to treat others the way I would want to be treated, that's how I try to live my life, and I hope I do."


Q. What do you most value in your friends?

A. "Loyalty," Cheryl stated. In a sarcastic tone, she added, "Trust, but verify." "Honesty," Judge Johnson answered.


Q. Who are your favorite writers?

A. "Nelson DeMille, Jeff Shaara, Joseph Ellis, John Sandford, J.A. Jance, David McCullough….," Judge Johnson was listing them off faster than I could guess how to spell them. "You prepped for this one didn't you?" I asked. He sat back in his chair, crossed his arms with a sense of satisfaction and a warm smile on his face, "yes, I sure did!" We all laughed. Cheryl rubbed her head and then looked at me. "There are so many," she said. "How about Norah Roberts!" Judge Johnson teased, laughing. "Her romance books!" he spouted through his chuckles. "Oh stop!" she half scolded through her smile. "I like to read things that I know how they are going to end. I can't stand it when I get attached to a character and then the author just offs them. I guess J.A. Jance, there are others, but I can't think of them right now."


Q. Who are you favorite heroes of fiction?

A. "Obi-wan Kenobi," Cheryl suggested. "That's hard," Judge Johnson mused. "Maybe the protagonist, Lucas Davenport, from the series by John Sandford; Gibbs from NCIS." He paused, clearly unsatisfied with his answer. "I honestly don't think that the term 'hero' is a fair assessment of anyone. We all have our faults and I think the term just gives unrealistic expectations and unattainable standards."


Q. Who are your heroes in real life?

A. Judge Johnson began, "Obama, civil rights attorneys." Cheryl agreed, saying, "People who walk-the-walk." Judge Johnson continued, "Eisenhower to the extent that he was instrumental in selecting two great justices to the court and how he dealt with the civil rights issues and the Little Rock issues." Cheryl added, "Hillary, and Michelle as well." "And George Washington," Judge Johnson continued with her list. "He established the foundation of our country, set up the democracy, and set the standard of a two-term presidency. He could have been voted in until he died, but he decided that wasn't what was best for our country. He also gave up his slaves to set an example that it wasn't right where as many other Founding Fathers did not."


Q. What is it that you most dislike?

A. "Arrogance," Judge Johnson said firmly. "I concur," Cheryl agreed. "It is always unjustified."


Q. How would you like to die?

A. Eyes wide, Judge Johnson asked, "What?" Cheryl confessed, "I was hoping you would skip this one!" After pondering it for a while, Judge Johnson began, "Well… I hope it's swift and short. I don't want it drawn out. I don't want to be a burden." Giggling, Cheryl responded, "And I want to live long enough to be a burden!"


Q. What is your motto?

A. "Treat others the way you would want to be treated," Judge Johnson answered very matter of fact. Cheryl nodded her head, "I'm going to go with one too." "Off the record," Judge Johnson added, leaning in and speaking quietly, "hers is probably also 'don't cross me or you'll regret it!' Ha ha!"

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Wednesday, 23 August 2017

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