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Bar News - September 21, 2001

Merrimack County Attorney to Join Team Prosecuting War Crimes

MICHAEL JOHNSON, the Merrimack County attorney for the past 19 years, has announced that he is resigning his post to take a position as chief of prosecution for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Johnson's resignation is effective October 1. A Superior Court committee will appoint an interim county attorney to serve until the 2002 election.

The Yugoslav tribunal was established in 1993 to try those who allegedly violated international humanitarian law during the Balkan wars of the 1990s, including former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. As chief of prosecution, Johnson, 51, will supervise the trial teams prosecuting these war crimes. He has made a commitment to remain at the Hague, the Netherlands, until the prosecution of Yugoslavian war crimes is complete, a process that will likely take several years.

"As a career prosecutor, it is a magnificent opportunity to contribute to the development of the law on an international scale," said Johnson.

During Johnson's tenure as Merrimack County attorney, his office standardized prosecution throughout the county, giving town courts the option of replacing police prosecutors with assistant county attorneys. It emphasized victim awareness and put new effort into prosecuting domestic violence and child assault cases. And with Johnson's support, Merrimack County became a state leader in alternative criminal justice programs: The county's diversion program monitors offenders as an alternative to incarceration.

Johnson was also elected as Criminal Justice Section delegate to the American Bar Association's House of Delegates.

Johnson said his interest in prosecuting war crimes began in law school, when he started reviewing transcripts from the Nuremberg Trials. His fascination with those Holocaust prosecutions even led him to travel to concentration camps. In 1997, he helped establish the International Criminal Justice Resource Center, a prosecutors' group that provides support for international war crimes prosecution and the rebuilding of domestic courts in war-torn countries. Over the past years, Johnson has made multiple trips to the Hague and to Rwanda to help set up tribunals.

"It is important that we as Americans understand that as the world gets smaller, we have more and more in common with peoples of other nations, and a greater responsibility to reach a consensus as to what common values we share," said Johnson.

"My mother said, when I was a child, that life isn't fair. Well, I found a job whose description is essentially to make it fair. That's the job description of a prosecutor: to make life fair. It's the hardest job, I think, but also the most rewarding," he said.

Johnson and his wife and two children, ages 5 and 10, will start the process of relocating to the Netherlands this month.

-From wire reports.

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