Photo via: Martesha Jonson
On Tuesday night, Martesha Johnson made history when she was sworn in as the first African American Metropolitan Public Defender for Nashville-Davidson County. Her historic swearing-in ceremony was held at her alma mater of Tennessee State University, where, in 2005, she graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and a minor in English.
“It was during that summer internship (at the Nashville Public Defender’s Office) that I sort of decided, that’s exactly what I want to do! I knew that I had an interest in criminal law. I knew that I had an interest in being a trial lawyer. I learned that I was passionate about those things while I was at Tennessee State,” Johnson said. “So when I had the internship in 2007, it sort of changed the course of what I wanted to do as a lawyer, and I immediately knew then I wanted to be a public defender.”
After undergrad, Johnson went on to attend law school at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Upon graduating in 2008, she learned that there were no jobs available at the Nashville Public Defender’s Office due to a hiring freeze as a result of the economic recession. But that didn’t stop Johnson from fighting for her dream to become a public defender. “I made a decision that I was going to volunteer my services as a licensed attorney at the Nashviille office, and I did that,” said Johnson.
That year, Johnson volunteered by day, and worked at Macy’s by night. In January of 2009, Dawn Deaner, Nashville’s now former Public Defender, offered Johnson a job. Since then Johnson has been defending people who cannot afford representation otherwise.
“As she was growing up, I often used to tell her when I would drop her off at school, ‘Go forth and do well.’ And for me, this election as Public Defender has just been the culmination of her going forth and doing well,” said Johnson’s mother Jacqueline, who received her Master’s degree in Public Administration from TSU the same day that Johnson received her bachelor’s in 2005.
Congratulations, Martesha! Continue to “go forth and do well.”