Photos via: Hanif Johnson
“Everybody always says, well, we complain about stuff, but we never get up and do anything. This is me getting up and doing something.” An empowering affirmation from Hanif Johnson who recently became the youngest Magisterial District Judge in the state of Pennsylvania. Last election day, he won the seat via the general election to serve for the Dauphin County Magisterial District and has begun his term as of January 2018.
As Johnson watched the current administration take office and cause anxiety around how they would affect the everyday lives of people, the Harrisburg, PA native decided that many important community decisions are made via local court systems. With this aha moment, he set out to run for a seat in Dauphin County. As a resident of the same county, he felt a call to serve his fellow community members.
The Magisterial District Judge position is one that is elected by residents in a given district and candidates do not have to possess a law degree. Incumbents receive extensive training on various law issues that they will preside over and have to ultimately pass a formal examination before taking office. This type of judge primarily handles traffic citations, minor criminal cases, and determines whether or not cases should be thrown out of court or be escalated up to the Court of Common Pleas.
Johnson’s path to his recently elected judgeship unfortunately included him ending up on the wrong side of the law multiple times. Before discovering his passion for track & field events in high school, he found himself in jail at three different times after running around with the wrong crowd. He credits participating in track with saving his life as he became a state champion and then went on to attend Penn State University.
While at Penn State, Johnson found himself in a court room again facing alleged hazing charges. As the president of his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., he spent two weeks in jail while awaiting a trial that he ultimately won. “It’s crazy because I know how it feels sitting across from that judge and that jury when you’re innocent,” remarked Johnson. Now Johnson himself has the opportunity to sit in the decision-making seat and make a difference in his community.
Initially Johnson shared that many people closed their doors on him as he canvassed neighborhoods to solicit votes. Folks immediately noticed that he was a young man and questioned his preparation to serve as a judge. They said he was too young and sometimes laughed in his face! However, his persistence, sincerity, and well-articulated desires to serve his community ultimately won them over. He also hopes that his recent win will inspire other young people to get involved with other local positions such as city council and the school board.
Congratulations, Judge Johnson! Way to “get up and do something” for your community.