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Profile: Norma Johnson

Norma Johnson was a participant or observer in the following events:

An apparently unofficial, confidential memo marked “read and destroy” is drafted about the four final candidates for the position of judge at the Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia. The memo is clearly critical of the incumbent, George Bason, who is up for reappointment. Bason recently displeased the Justice Department by ruling against it in the Inslaw affair over the alleged theft of enhanced PROMIS software (see September 28, 1987). The memo states that “its purpose is to ‘help’ elucidate in particular our reasoning in ranking the candidates as we did,” and describes each of the four. The House Judiciary Committee will comment: “What is striking about the memorandum is that the description of each candidate except Judge Bason begins with positive commentary about the individual. The section describing Judge Bason begins, ‘I could not conclude that Judge Bason was incompetent.’ Other phrases used to describe Judge Bason include ‘he is inclined to make mountains out of molehills,’ ‘Judge Bason seems to have developed a pronounced and unrelenting reputation for favoring debtors,’ and finally, ‘Judge Bason evidenced no inclination to come to grips personally with the management challenge posed by the terrible shortcomings of the Office of the Clerk of our Bankruptcy Court.’” The memo is addressed to Judge Norma Johnson, who Bason will allege may have been an instrument of a campaign waged against him by the Justice Department (see May 1988). The panel appointing the bankruptcy court judge will meet a week later and decide not to give the position to Bason, but to a Justice Department lawyer who represented the government in the Inslaw case (see December 15, 1987). After Bason asks appeals court judges to reconsider his non-reappointment (see January 12, 1988), the memo will be circulated to them. The memo is unsigned, but an appeals court judge who later provides the memo to the House Judiciary Committee investigating the Inslaw affair will say another judge on the appointment panel drafted it. However, this judge will deny having done so. When, some years later, several members of the panel are asked by the committee whether they saw this memo, they will say they do not recognize it. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: Norma Johnson, George Bason, Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia, House Judiciary Committee

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

George Bason, a bankruptcy judge who recently found in favor of Inslaw in a dispute over the Justice Department’s alleged theft of enhanced PROMIS software (see September 28, 1987), is not reappointed to the bench. Bason had been appointed in February 1984 instead of another judge who had resigned mid-term, but a decision is now taken to replace him with a Justice Department attorney named Martin Teel, who had appeared before him in the Inslaw case. Although the official report for the appointments panel about the candidates did not criticize Bason (see November 24, 1987), a subsequent unofficial report addressed to Norma Johnson, the head of the panel, did (see December 8, 1987). The unofficial report claimed that there were shortcomings in Bason’s administration of the clerk’s office, although the office appears to be running smoothly by this time (see Second Half of 1987). Several judges on the selection council will later say they did not know much about the candidates, and therefore relied on Johnson and her interpretation of reports prepared about them. The House Judiciary Committee will find that Johnson’s oral presentation “played a large role in the selection,” that Johnson ran the panel “firmly,” and that the other members “relied on her judgment.” Overall, it will call the selection process “largely informal, undocumented, and highly subjective.” Bason learns he will not be reappointed from Chief Judge Patricia Wald, of the US Court of Appeals, on December 28. Bason will later say that Teel was not qualified for the position (see January 12, 1988) and that the department had influenced the selection process in order to have him removed from the bench (see December 5, 1990). In this context, Bason will point out to the House committee that Johnson had previously worked with a departmental official named Stuart Schiffer, so he could have influenced her against Bason (see May 1988). Bason will also note that Johnson worked with Judge Tim Murphy for 10 years from 1970, and that Murphy had later worked as the assistant director on the implementation of PROMIS at the Justice Department. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: Tim Murphy, Stuart Schiffer, Norma Johnson, Martin Teel, Jr., George Bason, Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia, House Judiciary Committee

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

A news reporter tells George Bason, a bankruptcy judge who found in favor of Inslaw in a dispute over the alleged theft of enhanced PROMIS software (see September 28, 1987), that his failure to be reappointed to the bench was because of pressure from the Justice Department. According to the House Judiciary Committee, Bason says that the reporter has “excellent contacts and sources in the department.” Bason will say the reporter suggests his removal from the bench could have been procured as follows: “The district judge chairperson of the Merit Selection Panel [Judge Norma Johnson, who was crucial to his non-reappointment (see December 15, 1987)] could have been approached privately and informally by one of her old and trusted friends from her days in the Justice Department. He could have told her that I was mentally unbalanced, as evidenced by my unusually forceful ‘anti-government’ opinions. Her persuasive powers coupled with the fact that other members of the panel or their law firms might appear before her as litigating attorneys could cause them to vote with her.” The reporter also tells Bason that a high-level department official has boasted to him that Bason’s removal was because of his rulings on the Inslaw affair. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]

Entity Tags: Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia, Norma Johnson, George Bason

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

US District Judge Norma Johnson seals a lawsuit filed in the US Court of Claims by retired 20-year Army intelligence veteran and whistleblower Fred Westerman (see November 1988), who currently heads Systems Evaluations Incorporated (see 1985) and whose government contract was canceled after he reported abuses inside the highly secretive Continuity of Government program (see December 1987 and 1986-1987). Johnson issues a gag order on Westerman, forbidding him from discussing his case with members of Congress. The order comes a day after US News and World Report published an in-depth article on the COG program that highlighted Westerman’s case. Westerman’s lawsuit has been frozen since the Justice Department opened an investigation of his company (see November 1988). In 1990, Westerman will lose another contract, along with his security clearances (see 1990). By November 1991, he will be unemployable, several hundred thousand dollars in debt, and unable to gain any restitution from the government (see November 1991). [Emerson, 8/7/1989; San Francisco Chronicle, 8/8/1989; Associated Press, 9/11/1989; CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991]

Entity Tags: Norma Johnson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Program Office, Systems Evaluations Incorporated, US Army Corps of Engineers, Fred Westerman

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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