Kevin Johnson's legal and political careers were cut short in 1997 when a motorist struck and permanently disabled the former Minnesota chief administrative law judge and Hennepin County prosecutor.
Johnson, who had run for Minnesota attorney general and for the state Supreme Court, died of an apparent heart attack Nov. 11 at his Minneapolis home.
He was 57.
After graduating from the University of Minnesota Law School, he served in the Hennepin County public defenders office for 12 years, next joining the Hennepin County attorney's office. In 1993, he was appointed Minnesota's chief administrative law judge.
"He was as fierce a defense attorney as he was a prosecutor," said Mike Atkinson, an investigator for the county attorney's office. "He sought justice and fairness, working from either side."
As a prosecutor, he took on high-profile, difficult cases, said Judy Johnston, an assistant Hennepin County attorney. He was assigned to the old special prosecutor's team, handling violent crimes.
"He was a prosecutor who had really worked hard on behalf of victims," said Johnston, recalling Johnson's "dry humor" and "quick wit."
His name appeared in newspaper stories on cases such as triple murders and rape.
In June 1993, he prosecuted Zachary Persitz, convicted of first-degree murder for killing and dismembering his stockbroker, Michael Prozumenshikov.
Jim Trench, a retired attorney for the Hennepin County public defenders office recalled how bright and innovative Johnson was.
"He hit to the core of the defense," Trench said.
He was the Minnesota GOP's candidate against DFLer Hubert Humphrey III in the 1990 election for Minnesota attorney general.
In 1992, he ran for the Minnesota Supreme Court and lost to another big name in Minnesota, former Vikings star Alan Page.
In 1997, when he was living in St. Paul, the car accident left him with a traumatic brain injury, affecting his short-term memory and forcing him to retire.
When he was a trial lawyer, he easily prepared for cases because "he was blessed with a great memory," Atkinson said. "The world lost that brilliant man after that accident."
The St. Paul native once considered becoming a Catholic priest, having graduated in 1968 from the former Nazareth Hall High School in St. Paul. He received a bachelor's degree in philosophy from the University of St. Thomas in 1972.
As a teenager, he was a competitive swimmer and proud that he had become an Eagle Scout.
He is survived by his daughters, Elizabeth Johnson and Andrea Kuzel, both of Minneapolis; son, Michael, of Minneapolis; brothers Michael of West St. Paul and Patrick of Palatine, Ill., and his former wife, Linda Ovadia, of St. Paul.
Services will be at 10 a.m. Monday in the Church of St. Mark, 2001 Dayton Av., St. Paul.
Visitation will be from 5 to 8 p.m. today in O'Halloran & Murphy Funeral Home, 575 S. Snelling Av., St. Paul.