Hon. Bernette Joshua Johnson (ret.)

Mediator & Arbitrator


Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson (Ret.) was first elected to serve on the Louisiana Supreme Court in 1994, and was re-elected, without opposition, in 2000. In 2013, she became the Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court. Chief Justice Johnson retired in December 2020. 


Chief Justice Johnson attended Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree. She received an Honorary Doctorate in Law from Spelman College at commencement services in April 2001. She was one of the first African American women to attend the Paul M. Hebert Law Center at Louisiana State University, where she received her Juris Doctorate degree in 1969. She was honored by her law school in 1996, when her portrait was unveiled, and she was inducted into the LSU Law Center’s Hall of Fame. 


For much of her life, Chief Justice Johnson has worked as an advocate for social justice, civil rights, and community organizing. During the 1960’s, she worked as a community organizer with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Legal Defense & Educational Fund. She worked with community groups in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Louisiana, disseminating information about recent school desegregation decisions, and encouraged parents to take advantage of newly desegregated schools. She used these skills later to help organize household workers so they would receive Social Security benefits and a minimum wage. While a law student, Chief Justice Johnson worked as a Law Intern with the U.S. Department of Justice (Civil Rights Division) Washington, D.C. She worked on cases filed by the Department to implement the 1964 Civil Rights Act. These dealt mostly with discrimination in public accommodations. She also served as a Federal Observer during elections in Greenwood, Mississippi. 


After receiving her Juris Doctorate Degree from Louisiana State University Law School, Chief Justice Johnson became the Managing Attorney with the New Orleans Legal Assistance Corporation, where she delivered legal services to over three thousand (3,000) clients in socio-economically deprived neighborhoods. As a civil litigator, she worked in the Federal and State District Courts, and Juvenile Court advancing the rights of children, the poor, the elderly, and the disenfranchised.


In 1981, Chief Justice Johnson joined the City Attorney’s staff, and later became a Deputy City Attorney for the City of New Orleans. There, she attained extensive trial experience in the Civil District Court and U.S. District Court defending police brutality claims, and general tort claims, filed against the City of New Orleans. She supervised civil service litigation before the New Orleans Civil Service Commission and supervised appellate work before the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, where she defended agency suspensions and terminations. 


Chief Justice Johnson began her judicial career in 1984, when she was elected to the Civil District Court of New Orleans and was the first woman to hold that office. She was re-elected without opposition in 1990 and was elected Chief Judge by her colleagues in 1994.  


As a civil trial judge, she was first assigned to Domestic Relations Court, where she established a system to refer custody, alimony, and child support issues to mediation conducted by certified social workers of the Children’s Bureau and Family Services, prior to court appearances. The mediation was provided to needy families based on a sliding scale system for payment of fees. Her trial experience also included matters involving automobile accidents, workers compensation, insurance claims, asbestos and Jones Act claims.  


Chief Justice Johnson’s scholarly pursuits include serving as an Adjunct Faculty member teaching Trial Advocacy at Tulane University Law School, and serving as an Adjunct Professor at Southern University, New Orleans, teaching Legal Terminology and Business Law. She has published numerous editorials, essays, legal opinions, and other scholarly works throughout her career. Chief Justice Johnson is the recipient of numerous awards, including: the 2009 Distinguished Jurist Award presented by the Louisiana Bar Foundation; the Louis A. Martinet Legal Society President’s Award in 1997  and 2008; the National Nobel Woman Award presented by the Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women in  2005; the 2000 Medal of Honor presented by the Mayor of the City of New Orleans; the 2000 Women of Wonder Award  presented by the National Council of Negro Women; the first Ernest N. Morial Award presented by the New Orleans  Legal Assistance Corporation; the A.P. Tureaud Citizenship Award presented by the Louisiana State Conference of the  NAACP; the 1999 Martin Luther King, Jr. Torch Bearer Award; the 1998 American Bar Association’s Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award; the 1998 Outstanding Service Award presented by the International Law Section of the National Bar Association; and the 1992 Role Model Award presented by the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) of Greater New Orleans. In 1998, she was the Chairperson of the National Bar Association-Judicial Council. Chief Justice Johnson organized the first Continuing Legal Education (CLE) program for the Louis A. Martinet Legal Society. She is a member of the A.P. Tureaud Chapter of the American Inns of Court.  


In addition to her judicial responsibilities, Chief Justice Johnson has been actively involved in serving the community.  Chief Justice Johnson is a member of the Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church. She is an active member of Omicron Nu Zeta Chapter, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and an alumnae member of the New Orleans Chapter of Links, Inc., which are both service organizations. She has also served as a Member of the National Alumnae Association Spelman College; a Member of the Martin Luther King National Holiday Planning Committee; a Member of the Board of Directors of the Young Women Christian Association; and a Life Member of the NAACP.

Louisiana Arbitrators, Louisiana Mediators