Posted on May 1, 2024

Pennsylvania Ex-Con, 27, Who’s Been Jailed Three Times Turns Over a New Leaf to Become State’s Youngest Ever Judge

Dolores Chang, Daily Mail, May 1, 2024

A Pennsylvania man, who had been jailed three times, turned over a new leaf to become the state’s youngest judge at the age of 27.

Hanif Johnson, a student at Penn State University in 2012, once walked into a courtroom in shackles and handcuffs for a hearing on charges of simple assault, conspiracy, and harassment.

Hanif Johnson

Hanif Johnson

Twelve years later, Johnson found himself sitting on the bench as the youngest judge ever elected in the state of Pennsylvania.

In 2017, he defeated Republican candidate Claude Phillips with 73 percent of the vote to win the election for the Dauphin Magisterial District.

Reflecting on his troubled teenage years, he wrote on social media, ‘The chance of losing my freedom and also all the work I did to stay out of trouble… That’s a huge reason I have an open mind and a different perspective.’

Born and raised in Harrisburg, Johnson had a difficult childhood before he discovered his passion in track and field.

‘My mother was an addict, my dad was an addict, my grandmother was an addict, my aunt was an addict, my uncle was an addict, my grandfather was an addict, my entire immediate family was all addicts,’

‘We had 8 people sleeping in a 2 bedroom at one point of time my mom had the biggest heart and took other family’s kids in all the time,’ he wrote.

At Harrisburg High School, he decided to try out for the track team, a decision that forever changed his life.

‘One day, I decided this ain’t the way I want to live my life, so I started running track. Track actually saved my life,’ he told Huffpost in a 2018 interview.

He won the 2007 PIAA Triple Jump State Champion before he became the Track and Field Team Captain at Penn State University.

By the time he stood trial for hazing as a member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, he already had two cases on record.

‘The police don’t tell us nothing at all why they are arresting us. They take us downtown and make us sit there for 13hrs,’ he said of his first offense.

The second arrest occurred when he was observing the deliberation of a case that he was interested in, he said.

‘During a recess the police snatched me up I pushed him I didn’t know he was an officer. They arrested me charged me with intimidation of a witness during a murder trial.

‘I went to the casino the night before, so I have $500 in my pocket I bailed out. My old gym teacher was a bails bondsman. Got the call from state college they said the D.A said turn myself in…’

In 2012, Johnson, the president of his fraternity Omega Psi Phi and two other students stood trial for hazing allegations.

‘No one on the Jury looks like me I had to pay 12k for a simple assault case. I went to court in shackles and handcuffs…it was wild they came back with a VERDICT OF NOT GUILTY,’ he said.

‘I couldn’t even work for Uber after being found Not guilty. My arrest record was used against me.’

‘I went to jail for two weeks, then I went to trial. Thank God I won,’ Johnson recalled. ‘That was one of the happiest days; I just felt like my life was going to be taken from me.’

After graduation, Johnson served as a family resource specialist in his hometown to help at-risk youth, but the interactions with law enforcement propelled Johnson to pursue a career in law.

A magisterial district judge is a position elected by residents and doesn’t require a law degree, so Johnson took a brave step to embark on the campaign.

‘Being that I live in that area, they know me, I know the people, I know what’s going on,’ the father of two said.

‘You have single moms that can’t pay a parking ticket; I have the control to make life easier for her, rather than someone from out of town who don’t understand that $100 ticket might be too much for her and she ends up in jail over that ticket.’

While he was on the campaign trial, people closed the door in his face while laughing at him, he said.

‘But after the fourth or fifth conversation, I would ask them who they are voting for, and they would say me,’ he said.

Last year, Johnson was re-elected as the magisterial district judge with 96 percent of the votes.