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Judge Keeps Control in Clinton Case

September 24, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ In the thick of the Monica Lewinsky grand jury investigation this summer, President Clinton’s private lawyers and several of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s prosecutors were summoned to a closed-door meeting with the judge overseeing the case.

It was July 28 _ the day Clinton had been secretly subpoenaed to testify to Starr’s grand jury. Lawyer David Kendall wanted a couple more weeks to work out the details. Prosecutor Robert Bittman argued there had been quite enough delays already, and noted that Clinton seemed to find time for such things as a fund-raising trip and an upcoming vacation.

``If he can vacation for a couple of weeks, he can appear before a grand jury, too, you know,″ Judge Norma Holloway Johnson told Kendall. ``And God knows, he needs a vacation.″

Johnson has kept her courtroom closed, her rulings sealed, and a close grip on lawyers on both sides since the allegations landed in her courthouse in January.

Stern, acerbic and meticulous, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Washington is known as a by-the-book judge who does not suffer fools. She is an intensely private woman about whom even old friends and colleagues speak cautiously.

Johnson, 66, has long had a policy of refusing comment to the press.

The July 28 proceeding, a transcript of which was released by Congress Monday, reveals something of the way Johnson operated during the investigation that culminated with Starr’s report to Congress this month.

She hauled both sides into her courtroom on short notice at 4:30 in the afternoon and put them on notice that she would not stand for some lengthy pitched battle.

``No, we are not going to be in it forever, OK?″ she said at one point.

The hearing was over in less than an hour, and Kendall eventually arranged to have Clinton testify by closed-circuit television on Aug. 17.

``She is handling this case exactly as I would expect her to handle it. It is entirely consistent,″ said Patricia Gurne, a Washington lawyer who has known Johnson since her first appointment as a judge 27 years ago.

Johnson is a stickler for courtroom rules who once hauled a lawyer into her chambers and told him to comb his hair.

She can be imperious and given to tart remarks on the bench, lawyers and courthouse workers said. Gray curls and reading glasses add to the schoolmarm image.

``She demands civility in her courtroom and she does not like ungentlemanly or unladylike behavior,″ said former federal prosecutor Joseph diGenova.

Women in pants or casual clothing are likely to get a reproving look or brusque remark as the judge passes in the courthouse hallways.

But she warms in the presence of children, or when discussing the importance of education.

She helped found a national program to provide legal advocates for abused children and frequently welcomes school groups to the courthouse.

Johnson, who has no children, paid college tuition for four of her brother’s children. She has reportedly helped others go to college _ including buying books for a courthouse secretary and single mother trying to finish her degree.

She was born the daughter of a cook in Lake Charles, La., and came to Washington at 14 to care for a relative. She went to a local teachers’ college, then taught English to pay the night school bills at Georgetown University law school, where she graduated magna cum laude in 1962.

The registered Democrat was appointed to the Superior Court bench by President Nixon in 1970, after she worked as a federal prosecutor and District of Columbia government lawyer.

A decade later President Carter made her the first black woman appointed to the busy U.S. District Court in Washington. She became the district’s chief judge last year. The term typically lasts five years.

Only months after she started the job, the grand jury investigation into Clinton’s relationship with Ms. Lewinsky, a former White House intern, made Johnson one of the nation’s best-known federal judges.

She hauled Starr and White House lawyers into her chambers for secret hearings or lectures on matters major and minor _ from whether a president will be assassinated if bodyguards must tell what they see and overhear in the Oval Office to what books Ms. Lewinsky charged on her credit card.

Johnson generally sided with Starr in a series of rulings churned out in workmanlike fashion, forcing Secret Service agents, Clinton aides and some White House lawyers to go before the grand jury.

But she called Starr on the carpet as well, notably for alleged leaks to the press.

``She has always been a disciplined judge. ... You have to understand she believes in the decorum of the court and the rule of law, and she strongly enforces that,″ said E. Lawrence Barcella Jr., a former federal prosecutor and now a Washington defense lawyer.

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