James Johnson is an of counsel who retired from the partnership in March of 2016 and has focused his efforts on social justice issues. As a practitioner, Jim was commended in The Legal 500 US (2007) for his “calm and methodical demeanor” as well as his “clear sense of high ethics and morals.”

Mr. Johnson has the distinction of having held several senior positions in the United States Department of the Treasury, including Under Secretary of the Treasury for Enforcement (1998-2000) and Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Enforcement (1996-1998). He oversaw the operations of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; the Secret Service; the United States Customs Service; the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center; the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network; and the Office of Foreign Assets Control. In total, Mr. Johnson oversaw approximately 29,000 employees and shared oversight of an operating budget exceeding $4.2 billion. Mr. Johnson also served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (1990-1996), where he rose to Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division (1993-1996). During his tenure in the Southern District, he assisted in the management of the Criminal Division while prosecuting a wide variety of criminal cases, and was detailed to the United States Department of the Treasury to serve on the White House Security Review.

At the Department of the Treasury, Mr. Johnson oversaw many complex criminal investigations, including the multinational anti-money laundering investigation code-named Operation Casablanca, which ensnared banking officials and co-conspirators in Mexico, Los Angeles, New York and Colombia. Mr. Johnson led the development of the U.S. government’s strategy against the Black Market Peso exchange, the largest money laundering system in the Western Hemisphere. He also spearheaded the designation of the first High Intensity Financial Crimes Areas, which focused federal and state regional efforts against money laundering. 

Since returning to private practice, Mr. Johnson has represented individuals, audit committees and corporations in connection with a wide variety of regulatory, enforcement and Congressional matters, and has taken on several high-profile public projects, including serving as Monitor in U.S. ex rel. Anti-Discrimination Center of NY v. Westchester County. He also led Governor Corzine’s Advisory Committee on Police Standards.

Mr. Johnson has received numerous awards for his service and accomplishments in both private practice and public service. He is the recipient of the Alexander Hamilton Award (the Department of Treasury’s highest award, given to officials for excellence in service) and the Attorney General’s Certificate for Excellence in Prosecution. In 2003, Mr. Johnson was named to Black Enterprise’s List of the Nation’s Top Black Lawyers and to Crain’s New York Business’s List of Most Powerful Minorities. Mr. Johnson was recently elected as a member of the Harvard College Board of Overseers. He is former Chair of the Board of the Brennan Center for Justice and is also a trustee of the Montclair Art Museum.

He is the author of numerous articles that have appeared in national publications, of which a selected few are: “Privacy and Privilege in Cross-Jurisdictional Internal Investigations,” Internal Investigations 2009: How to Protect Your Clients or Company (2009); “Bench Unfair Judge Picking Process Now,” The New York Daily News (2006); and “Don't Make Miranda Meaningless,” co-authored with former FBI Director William S. Sessions in The Washington Post (2003).

Mr. Johnson joined Debevoise in 1987 and rejoined in 2004 as a partner. He served as a law clerk to the Hon. Robert E. Keeton, U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts (1986-1987). He received his J.D. cum laude in 1986 from Harvard Law School, where he contributed to the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, and received his A.B. cum laude from Harvard College in 1983.

Education

  • Harvard Law School, 1986, J.D.
  • Harvard University, 1983, A.B.

Bar Admissions

  • New York