Longtime city attorney finds joy in variety

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Shannon Johnson had been handling the city’s legal issues for years as a private attorney before joining the city full-time in 2009. (KEIZERTIMES/Jason Cox)

By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

You might be able to predict our first question for E. Shannon Johnson, city attorney:

What does the E stand for?

“Eric.” He told us. “My dad was Swedish. My mom was Irish. Mom won out because she’s Irish.”

That explains that. His grandparents emigrated from those respective countries.

Johnson, 57, was born in Eugene and moved to Portland with his parents when he was a child. Dad was a truck driver for Arco; Mom was a billing clerk for Freightliner. He grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood of north Portland.

Young Johnson never wavered on what he wanted to do. Neither did his younger brother, Tom, who wanted to be a teacher and is doing just that at Barlow High School.

“I guess it was the fact that I could fix problems for people,” Johnson said. “(But) I’m too old; I don’t remember what kind of attorney I wanted to be when I was a kid.”

He graduated from Roosevelt High School, got a bachelor’s degree at Portland State University in sociology and urban studies, and went to Willamette University for law school.

How did he handle the stress? Well, “I never wanted to quit. … It wasn’t easy, but it was fascinating learning all the stuff.”

He credited the late professors Carlton Snow, who taught contract law, and John Paulus, who taught property law, as two sources of inspiration during school – “just wonderful, patient, analytic people.”

He had been clerking at Lien and Hobson, and was offered a job after graduation.

“I had planned on moving back to Portland, but I enjoyed the area … enjoyed the people, the type of work,” Johnson said.

He spent his first few years working mostly private cases in areas of real estate, probate and business, but one of the firm’s big tasks was the business of a newly-incorporated City of Keizer.

Joe Hobson and John Lien had been instrumental in incorporating the city, Johnson said. They served as the city’s law firm pro bono when the city was newly established and didn’t have revenue.

Over time, he began working more and more on municipal law.

“I really enjoy the city work,” Johnson said. “I feel like I can kinda give something back and it’s a way to assist the community.”

After more than 20 years at the law firm – and becoming a full partner as the firm eventually became Lien and Johnson – he joined the city full-time in 2009, and told us then he’d been spending the vast majority of his time on city work for years anyway.

“We have a good time – birthday parties, potlucks – it’s a great group of people,” Johnson said of his co-workers.

He particularly enjoys the variety of legal work the job entails: Contracts, real estate, public records and meetings, elections land use and more.

What most frustrates him is probably “the length of time it takes to get things done. It’s not just our bureaucracy – private parties and other agencies. Internal things can get done pretty quickly because we’re efficient and still pretty small.”

His family includes wife Aleyna Reed, who is a psychiatric nurse practitioner and resident psychologist. Son Ben, 20, earned Eagle Scout designation. Daughter Nissa, 16, is a junior at McNary High School. Stepson Rob Hamilton is in law school at the University of Oregon. His other stepson, Mike Hamilton, programs software part-time for Intel and is exploring post-graduate options.

Johnson has these words of wisdom for someone considering law school.

“I would recommend the law, but not based on the TV shows or a desire to get rich,” Johnson said. “… It’s very demanding. I think you really need to think about it and talk to a lot of people before you do it.”

He declares neutrality in the Ducks-Beavers rivalry, but is an avid Portland Trailblazers fan – in fact, he thinks Greg Oden was the right pick over Kevin Durant.

He doesn’t particularly enjoy TV shows about the legal profession. In fact, he said he hasn’t watched much TV in more than 20 years.

“It was the commercials and the quality of the programs,” Johnson said of his decision to mostly avoid television. “When we did we’d watch (Oregon Public Broadcasting) more than anything else. But we do watch movies.”

His favorite film from the past couple of years is Inception, he said.

He’s a big reader, and mostly enjoys fiction. He likes Michael Crichton, and still has his Hardy Boys collection from his childhood – “loved those when I was a kid.”

He’s the primary cook in the house, with his specialties including chicken marsala and barbecue ribs – Johnson has even made his own special rub for the ribs. Johnson has recently gotten into French cooking via Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and takes pride in his tenderloin roast and en croute.

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3 Responses for “Longtime city attorney finds joy in variety”

  1. [...] did not discuss the division of revenue, which remains just as critical as the system issues.”A very random lawyer in Portland still thinks Oden was the right choice over Durant.KD’s still reportedly in for the “World” basketball tour. Share: Bolts Comments [...]

  2. Guest says:

    Oden was equivocally the wrong pick

  3. Keizer Voter says:

    I find the city attorney arrogant, controlling and out of touch with the voters.
    He clearly gets his attitude and direction from our handsomely paid city manager.

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