Brendan Johnson

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Brendan Johnson
Brendan Johnson.jpeg
40th United States Attorney for the District of South Dakota
In office
October 15, 2009 – March 13, 2015
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byMarty Jackley
Succeeded byRandy Seiler
Personal details
Brendan Van Johnson

(1975-06-24) June 24, 1975 (age 44)
Vermillion, South Dakota, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
RelativesTim Johnson (father)
EducationUniversity of South Dakota (BS)
University of Virginia (JD)

Brendan Van Johnson (born June 24, 1975) is an American attorney and 40th United States Attorney for the District of South Dakota. He is the son of former U.S. Senator Tim Johnson and currently is a partner at Robins Kaplan LLP, a business litigation group.

Early life and education[edit]

Johnson is the second son of United States Senator Tim Johnson, and his wife, Barbara (née Brooks) Johnson. Born in Vermillion, South Dakota, he moved with his family to Washington, D.C. after his father was elected to Congress in 1986. In high school, he received all district honors in football and excelled as a wrestler.

He later returned to Vermillion to attend the University of South Dakota where he was selected for the Harry S. Truman Scholarship.[1] Brendan went on to attend the University of Virginia School of Law where he was president of the Student Bar Association and a member of the Raven Honor Society.[citation needed]

Early career[edit]

Johnson moved to Hill City, South Dakota, after graduating from law school to serve as a judicial law clerk to the Honorable Karen Schreier Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the District of South Dakota. He later moved to Minnehaha County, South Dakota and became a prosecutor for that county. In this capacity he prosecuted a number of cases, including the case of an individual who received two life sentences without parole and 145 years in state prison for the attempted murders of two Sioux Falls Police Officers.[2]

Johnson later became a partner in the law firm known as Johnson, Heidepriem, Janklow, Abdallah and Johnson.[3]

U.S. Attorney for the District of South Dakota[edit]

Johnson was nominated by President Barack Obama to be the 40th United States Attorney for the District of South Dakota and was unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate on October 15, 2009.[4] On March 13, 2015, Johnson stepped down as U.S. Attorney for the District of South Dakota.[citation needed]

His nomination to be United States Attorney was supported by several prominent Republicans, including former Governor Bill Janklow, former State Attorney General Larry Long, former Sioux Falls Mayor Dave Munson, and a variety of state and local law enforcement leaders.[5]

In 2009, the Attorney General of the United States selected Johnson to serve as chairman of the Native American Issues Subcommittee. Two years later the Attorney General selected Johnson to serve on the Attorney's General Advisory Committee. Johnson is a member of the Terrorism and National Security Subcommittee.[citation needed]

As South Dakota’s chief federal law enforcement officer, Johnson's office prosecuted several high-profile child exploitation cases, including the case of an individual who received a life sentence for the human trafficking of minors. He also convened the first statewide Tribal Listening Session, a statewide civil rights conference, and has been an outspoken advocate on violence against women issues.[citation needed]

Native American Issues[edit]

Johnson increased his office's focus on Native American issues. He worked the night shift with tribal police officers, conducted leadership training for Native American youth, and implemented a new statewide community based prosecution strategy.[6] His focus resulted in an increase in prosecutions. Some of his office's high-profile prosecutions include a 17-person drug conspiracy in Pine Ridge[7] known as Operation Prairie Thunder.

Johnson and his counterpart in North Dakota, former U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon, were known as the “Dakota Boys” within the Justice Department and together they focused on improving public safety in tribal communities across the country.[8] Richard Hartunian, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of New York, said "the efforts of the Dakota Boys were a turning point in U.S.-Tribal relations ... Brendan and Tim were the right leaders at the right time to carry out the vision of President Obama and Attorney General Holder to improve public safety in Indian Country". Purdon and Johnson joined the law firm of Robins Kaplan LLP together and now work together on behalf of tribes in private practice.[9]

Human trafficking[edit]

As United States Attorney, Johnson oversaw the prosecution of more than 25 human trafficking cases in five years, including three life-sentences and the federal prosecution of numerous men who attempted to purchase sex from trafficking victims. He pursued the case of United States v. Jungers through the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, securing the critical decision that buyers of sex acts with minors are committing crimes of sex trafficking under the federal law, upping the risk of such activity by those who drive the sex trafficking markets.

In 2014, Johnson received Shared Hope International’s Pathbreaker Award for determined leadership in combatting child sex trafficking: “Brendan Johnson is a force of determination, initiative and skill that should leave buyers terrified to purchase sex with a minor in South Dakota,” Shared Hope International President and Founder Linda Smith said. “By creating a threshold for buyer accountability, he sets a national precedent that, if applied, will make significant strides in reducing tolerance for purchasing sex with a minor.”[10]

Later Legal Career[edit]

After leaving the U.S. Attorneys office he went into private practice with Robins Kaplan LLP. Johnson is the founding-partner of the Sioux Falls branch. Robins Kaplan is the first national law firm to establish an office in South Dakota.

Riot Boosting Statute Lawsuit[edit]

In March, 2019, Johnson sued South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem; South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg and Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom in Dakota Rural Action, Dallas Goldtooth, Indigenous Environmental Network, NDN Collective, Sierra Club and Nicholas Tilsen, in Federal District Court, Case # 5:19-cv-5046 regarding SB 189 "the Riot Boosting Act" and criminal statutes SDCL 22-10-6 & 22-10-6.1.[11]

Proposed Constitutional Amendment to Decriminalize Small Amounts of Marijuana, Legalize Hemp and Legalize Medical Marijuana[edit]

In June, 2019, Johnson submitted an initiated constitutional amendment which he entitled "An initiated amendment to the South Dakota Constitution legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana". The proposed constitutional amendment seeks to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, require the legislature to legalize hemp by 2022 and require the legislature to legalize medical marijuana by 2022. [12]

Personal life[edit]

Brendan Johnson is married to Dr. Jana Beddow Johnson who graduated from Mayo Medical School and was Chief Resident of the Harvard Dermatology program.[13] They have four children. He has frequented the University of South Dakota School of Law as a guest lecturer and adjunct professor of Cyber Law.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation". Retrieved July 28, 2017.
  2. ^ "A Senator's Son Forges His Own Path in South Dakota". Main Justice. 2010-02-10. Retrieved 2012-08-12.
  3. ^ Ross, Denise (2008-12-10). "The next Johnson: Brendan eyes U.S. attorney post". Retrieved 2012-08-12.
  4. ^ "USDOJ: US Attorney's Office - District of South Dakota". Retrieved 2012-08-12.
  5. ^ Walker, Carson (2009-01-29). "Brendan Johnson sends application for US Attorney". Lakota Country Times. Retrieved 2012-08-12.
  6. ^ "Archives". Lakota Country Times. 2008-05-29. Retrieved 2012-08-12.
  7. ^ "Feds charge for selling drugs on Pine Ridge Reservation". Retrieved July 28, 2017.
  8. ^ "Meet the Acting U.S. Attorney - USAO-NDNY - Department of Justice". Retrieved 28 July 2017.
  9. ^ "US Attorney's Office - District of North Dakota". 2012-06-05. Archived from the original on 2013-07-15. Retrieved 2012-08-12.
  10. ^ "U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson Receives Shared Hope Pathbreaker Award for Anti-Trafficking Leadership". October 17, 2014. Retrieved February 8, 2017.
  11. ^ "ACLU Files Challenge to "Riot Boosting" Act". March 28, 2019. Retrieved June 3, 2010.
  12. ^ (PDF). May 30, 2019 Retrieved June 5, 2010. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. ^ "Jana B. Johnson, MD". Avera. Archived from the original on 2011-10-28. Retrieved 2012-08-12.
Legal offices
Preceded by
Marty Jackley
United States Attorney for the District of South Dakota
Succeeded by
Randy Seiler