Kristi Haskins Johnson – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi

Correction: A previous version of this article misattributed an article on the Clean Water Act to Ms. Johnson.  The author of the article was a different Kristi Johnson.

Kristi Haskins Johnson served as Mississippi Solicitor General for a month before her appointment to the federal bench was announced, marking a remarkable rise for the 38-year old attorney.

Background

Kristi Haskins Johnson received her B.A. from the University of Mississippi in 2003 and her J.D. summa cum laude from the Mississippi College School of Law in 2008.  Johnson clerked for Judge Leslie Southwick on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and for Judge Sharion Aycock on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi.

In 2011, Johnson joined Ogletree Deakins as an associate.  She stayed until 2014, when she joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi as a federal prosecutor.  

In February 2020, Johnson was appointed by Attorney General Lynn Fitch to be Mississippi’s first Solicitor General, in which role she currently serves.

History of the Seat

Johnson has been nominated for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, most likely for the seat that opened on March 23, 2018, when Judge Louis Guirola took senior status.  The current nominee for the Guirola seat, Mississippi Court of Appeals Judge Cory Wilson, is being nominated for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Legal Experience

Johnson’s primary litigation experience is in private practice at Ogletree Deakins and at the U.S. Attorney’s Office as a federal prosecutor.  In the former position, Johnson notably argued before the Mississippi Supreme Court on behalf of the Sara Lee Bakery Group, appealing a decision ruling that the Group was required to pay unemployment taxes.[1]  The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled, in an opinion by Justice Josiah Coleman, that Sara Lee’s distributors were not employees and that an administrative decision to the contrary was not supported by substantial evidence.[2]  As such, the Court agreed with Johnson’s position.

As a federal prosecutor, Johnson has prosecuted fraud and financial crimes, among others.  For example, Johnson investigated Jackson State University’s management of grant money, resulting in an $1.17 million settlement.[3]  Johnson also worked with the Securities and Exchange Commission to prosecute a Ponzi scheme that defrauded consumers in Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi.[4]

Overall Assessment

Johnson has accomplished much in her fairly brief legal career and is obviously a talented and skilled attorney.  As such, while Johnson may draw some raised eyebrows such to her youth and nine years of practice experience, she is likely to still be confirmed comfortably to the federal bench.


[1] See Earthgrains Bakery Grp., Inc. v. Miss. Dep’t of Empl. Sec., 131 So. 3d 1163 (Miss. 2014).

[2] Id. at 1173.

[3] See Press Release, Office of the U.S. Attorney, Southern District of Missippi, Jackson State University Agrees to Pay $1.17 Million to Settle False Claims Act Allegations, Feb. 1, 2017.

[4] See Litigation Release, Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC Shuts Down $85M Ponzi Scheme and Obtains Asset Freeze, May 2, 2018.

[5] Kristi Johnson, The Mythical Giant: Clean Water Act Section 401 And NonPoint Source Pollution, 29 Envtl. L. 417 (Summer 1999).

[6] See id. at 435.

[7] See id. at 461.