Robert Gilbert “Gil” Johnston, a former dean at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago, died on June 21, 2018. He was 86.
Johnston spent nearly 50 years in the classroom at John Marshall before officially retiring in 2013. His long and impressive career in legal education began when he joined John Marshall’s adjunct faculty in 1963. Two years later, he accepted a full-time teaching position and was named Director of the Legal Methods Program, which he led for three years.
In 1970, Johnston grew restless for his native Hawaii and returned to Oahu with his family, where he led the Hawaii Legal Services Project, a legal aid organization. Two years later, he returned to private practice, focusing on native Hawaiian land claims, protecting children and prisoners’ rights.
In 1975, Johnston returned to Chicago, again accepting a full-time faculty position at John Marshall. Over the years, he taught Civil Procedure I and II, Administrative Procedure, Conflicts of Law, Federal Jurisdiction, Ethics, Litigation Process and Pre-Trial Practice.
In 1988, Johnston was named Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, then Acting Dean in 1994. He officially became Dean in 1995 and continued in that position until August 2003, when he returned to the classroom for another 10 years.
He will be dearly missed by the John Marshall Community.
Professor Ann M. Lousin said, “During Gil’s 50 years as a professor and Dean, he exhibited extraordinary devotion to the law school and its mission to help people from all social and economic backgrounds become lawyers. There are thousands of lawyers whom Gil helped when they were students and then as young lawyers. Besides that, he fought for the underdog both in his native Hawaii and in his adopted home of Chicago. He was a true champion of justice.”
Johnston amassed a long list of accomplishments during his 15 years as an administrator. The Fair Housing Legal Clinic, the Czech Program and the SIPO-China Program all began under his leadership. He also approved the expansion of John Marshall’s graduate degree programs and the growth of the Centers for Excellence, believing these programs would set John Marshall apart from other law schools. During Johnston’s tenure, John Marshall became the first law school in the country to offer LLM degrees in International Business & Trade Law, Information Technology & Privacy Law and Employee Benefits.
Since retiring from John Marshall, Johnston continued to maintain his blog on Illinois Civil Procedure, advise the Francis D. and Corinne S. Morrissey Scholars (a group of John Marshall students who study and publish papers on professional responsibility), and deliver CLE programs in Illinois and Hawaii.
Last December, Johnston worked with playwright and chair of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Robert Lindsey, on “Sonny Kaniho: A Profile in Hawaiian Courage,” a play about a client Johnston had advised and represented at trial. Johnston wrote the foreword to the play and appeared as his own character in the chapters about the trial. Johnston’s client, Sonny Kaniho, had challenged the use of land by a powerful Hawaiian ranch, claiming the land should be set aside for use by Native Hawaiians. Johnston won the trial for his client on a motion to dismiss.