Norma Holloway Johnson, a trailblazing former chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., who gained national prominence when she oversaw the grand jury investigation into President Clinton's relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky, has died. She was 79.
Johnson died Sunday at her brother's home in Lake Charles, La., according to a court statement. The cause was not given.
Johnson was the first black woman to be appointed to the federal bench in Washington and she is the only woman ever to serve as chief judge of the court. She was appointed by President Carter in 1980 and served as chief from 1997 to 2001.
In 1998, during a grand jury investigation, Johnson ruled that Clinton could not stop prosecutors from questioning his senior aides in the Lewinsky matter despite his claim of White House confidentiality. Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr was allowed to gather evidence for his investigation into obstruction of justice.
In another high-profile case, Johnson sentenced former Democratic Rep. Dan Rostenkowski of Illinois in 1996 to 17 months in prison and a $100,000 fine for misusing public funds, reprimanding him for his "reprehensible" actions.
The current chief, Judge Royce C. Lamberth, said Johnson's "groundbreaking legal career" was an inspiration.
Born in Lake Charles, La., in 1932, she went to work at age 12 to help her family pay the bills. As a teenager, she went to live with an aunt in Washington, where she would have better educational opportunities than in her home state during the segregated era.
She earned a teaching degree at what is now the University of the District of Columbia, then taught junior high school while studying at night for her law degree at Georgetown University.
At the Department of Justice, she worked as a civil trial lawyer from 1963 to 1967, then took a position as assistant corporation counsel for the District of Columbia until 1970, when she was appointed to the D.C. Superior Court by President Nixon.
Her husband of 46 years, Julius A. Johnson, who was a federal administrative law judge, died last year. They had no children, and her brother, Lionel Holloway, is her only survivor.