Recently appointed judge, prosecutor seek Marion County Circuit Court seat

Erious Johnson Jr., appointed by Gov. Kate Brown in February, is running against Amy Queen, who’s focused on prosecuting domestic violence cases

By: - November 4, 2022 5:50 am

Erious Johnson Jr. is competing against Amy Queen for a seat on the Marion County Circuit Court. (Campaign photos)

Compared with other elected offices in Oregon, positions on the state’s circuit courts are rarely contested when up for a vote.

This year, of the 13 circuit court positions on the ballot, only two of the races have multiple candidates, both involving judges who were appointed to their positions in 2022 by Gov. Kate Brown.

For the Marion County Circuit Court, which has 15 judges serving six-year terms, the race for Position 14 is between incumbent Judge Erious Johnson Jr. and longtime county prosecutor Amy Queen. 

The race is, by definition, nonpartisan, and both candidates say they don’t view it as a typical Republican versus Democrat affair. Yet looking at where each candidate is receiving their support, a partisan trend does emerge.

Most of the endorsements for both candidates are from attorneys, judges or members of law enforcement, but additionally Queen has received support from Republican leaders, while Johnson is backed by Democrats.

For Queen, these GOP endorsements include Marion County Commissioner Kevin Cameron, state Sen. Kim Thatcher and state Rep. Raquel Moore-Green. She’s also been endorsed and received money from the timber industry, typically a donor to conservative causes and candidates.

“It’s not about a political party, it’s about what do I offer to Marion County as a judge,” Queen said.

Meanwhile, Johnson has been endorsed by Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries Val Hoyle, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, Salem Mayor-elected Chris Hoy and no fewer than 10 other former or current elected leaders on the left.

His largest campaign contributions are from out-of-state individuals and Brown’s political action committee. 

“It’s easier to make it partisan than actually look at the candidates and decide who would be better for Marion County,” Johnson said. 

Erious Johnson Jr.

Name: Erious Johnson Jr.

Age: 55

Profession: Marion County Circuit Court judge

Residence: Salem

Funds raised as of Nov. 3, 2022: $100,000

Cash on hand as of Nov. 3, 2022: $24,000

Key endorsements: Bureau of Labor and Industries Commissioner Val Hoyle; Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum; Salem Mayor-elected Chris Hoy; Judge James C Egan, Oregon Court of Appeals; Judge Darleen Ortega, Oregon Court of Appeals

Growing up in Queens, New York, Johnson said he wanted to be a judge since he was 8 years old and learned of the influence of the legal system. 

He was in Sunday school in Virginia while visiting family and noticed a couple of older people in the church didn’t read the primer they were passing around to read aloud. His father told him they couldn’t read.

This was in Prince Edward County, where his mother grew up, which closed its public schools rather than integrate after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that banned racial segregation in public schools. That left the county only with private schools, which allowed segregation.

Instead of letting his children go without school, Johnson’s grandfather enrolled them in a school in New York without missing a single day of class.

Johnson said his opportunities are likely a result of his grandfather making this decision and inspired him to be a judge.

My whole career has been designed to make me the best fit to be a judge. I wanted to see everything I could, as many areas of the law as I could.

– Erious Johnson Jr., candidate for Marion County Circuit Court judge

Johnson was also inspired by television shows like L.A. Law and The People’s Court, which portrayed judges as positive forces in society.

“I wanted to be something that helped people ensure their rights. I wanted to be something that wasn’t what my grandmother thought it was,” he said. 

He graduated in 2002 from Howard University School of Law, a historically black university in Washington, D.C., before spending a decade practicing law in New York City. He was a litigation associate for two years at a high powered firm, a trial attorney for the city for four years and then a clerk for the New York State Supreme Court.

He moved to Salem in 2012 with his wife, Nkenge Harmon Johnson, who is from the area. 

He opened a private practice and, in 2014, Johnson was sworn in as an assistant attorney general and civil rights director of the Oregon Department of Justice.

It was one of his favorite jobs. 

In 2015, Johnson said he was the target of improper and racially motivated surveillance by the Department of Justice due to his tweets in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and utilization of a phrase and image from the rap group Public Enemy. He sued Rosenblum — his boss at the time — and others at the agency, eventually settling for $205,000 and agreeing to leave his job at the state. Neither Rosenblum nor the state acknowledged wrongdoing at the time of the settlement.

Johnson said he used the settlement to restart his private law practice, which was his job until his appointment to the Marion County Circuit Court in February.

“My whole career has been designed to make me the best fit to be a judge,” Johnson said. “I wanted to see everything I could, as many areas of the law as I could.”

Amy Queen

Name: Amy Queen

Age: 47

Profession: Marion County deputy district attorney

Residence: Has not publicly disclosed

Funds raised as of Nov. 3, 2022: $61,000

Cash on hand as of Nov. 3, 2022: $24,000

Profession: Deputy district attorney

Key endorsements: Marion County Commissioner Kevin Cameron; Oregon Sen. Kim Thatcher; Oregon Rep. Raquel Moore-Green; Salem Police Employees Union; Hon. Senior Judge Jamese Rhoades; Hon. Senior Judge Susan Tripp

When Queen was 10 years old, she watched a feature story on ABC’s 20/20 about a female judge who presided over a family court. Queen recalled seeing her as “strong, confident” and in a role of protecting children and families. She told her mom that is the career she wanted.

Queen attended the Willamette University College of Law in Salem and started as a clerk in the Marion County District Attorney’s Office in 2002 before leaving school. After graduating and passing the bar exam in 2004, with two years as a clerk under her belt, she became a deputy district attorney, which has been her job for the past 18 years.

“As someone who grew up in that courthouse, it matters to me who sits on the bench,” Queen said. 

She has prosecuted all kinds of cases, including aggravated murder, but her career focus has been on victims of domestic violence.

Queen is the trial team lead for the department’s Domestic Violence team, as well as a member of the Salem Police Department Domestic Violence Response Team and a member of the Marion County Domestic Violence Council.

I know what it means to be a judge. Living in that courthouse, that’s what I’m familiar with.

– Amy Queen, candidate for Marion County Circuit Court judge

Queen was also among those candidates Brown could have selected when this position became open. Brown chose Johnson, but Queen said her experience better prepares her for the job.

She’s demonstrated her ability in court and has developed positive relationships with prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges, she said. They know what kind of judge she would be because they’ve worked with her for years. She said that’s why many are endorsing her.

She said she knows the importance of balancing the rights of the victim and those of the accused. As a district attorney, she has a lot of power to choose whom to prosecute, but she said it was just as important to know when not to bring charges against someone.

Everyone in the process deserves the same level of respect, she said.

“I know what it means to be a judge,” she said. “Living in that courthouse, that’s what I’m familiar with.”

Her main message to voters is that she wants to give them a choice between the person Brown picked for the job and a better candidate: herself.

“I’m obligated to make myself an option,” she said.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Connor Radnovich
Connor Radnovich

Connor Radnovich is a freelance reporter based in Salem with five years experience covering Oregon politics for the Statesman Journal. He graduated from Arizona State University in 2014 with degrees in journalism and mass communication.