The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


December 15, 2007

Judge Thomas Johnston

He misses politics, but loves sinking teeth into complex legal issues

His eyesight may not have allowed him to pursue one of his early career dreams, but there’s no denying that U.S. District Judge Thomas E. Johnston has perspective. His vision, from childhood onward, has been ever upward — with his goals, his lofty pursuits, his career path and his faith.

At age 38, Johnston was the youngest federal district judge in the country when President George W. Bush appointed him to serve the Southern District of West Virginia in April 2006. Prior to that, when Bush tapped him as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia in September 2001, he was the second-youngest U.S. Attorney in America. The first 40 years of his life have been quite a journey for the man who once thought the wild blue yonder and the U.S. Air Force were beckoning him to walk on air.

“I was very involved in Civil Air Patrol. I had aspirations of going to the Air Force Academy and becoming an Air Force pilot. I ultimately chose not to do that. My eyes went bad during my first year of college, so I couldn’t fly. I wanted to fly the SR-71 — a high-flying, fast spy plane,” Johnston recalled of his high-school years.

“I was very interested in the military and aviation. On the other hand, I was very interested in public speaking, politics and current events. Everyone who knew me would tell you that I was interested in pursuing a career in politics. I was pretty goal-oriented when it came to that. My initial motivation for law was an interest in politics. I felt early on that a lot of people in politics were also lawyers, and there’s a relationship there. A lot of what is involved in politics and what is involved in law overlap. The skill sets translate nicely. Certain skills you might acquire in politics can be very helpful in the practice of law. I saw them as hand in hand. You can also certainly make a better living with a law degree than a political science degree,” he quipped.

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