By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Jill Johnson spends most of her days locked inside her home. Far from the headed days when she traveled Northeast Alabama as assistant and district coordinator for democrat powerbroker former Senator Lowell Barron.
Charged with six total counts of ethics law violations and violations of the Fair Campaign Practices Act, Johnson, 48, if convicted, could spend the rest of her life behind prison walls.
Johnson says she met Barron in 2006 when she was raising money for a community center. Barron told her, “I’ll match what you raise dollar-for-dollar up to $10,000.” So, Johnson went to work organizing an event for the center and was able to stage a fundraiser that “raised over $10,000.” She said, “He did what he said and matched us.”
She says that it was then that Barron recognized her organizational skills saying, according to Johnson, “I want you to work for me.”
Johnson said it was a big step for her, but one she was excited to take. “You gotta understand, I wasn’t a democrat or a republican. I was just someone that loved everybody. I didn’t care what side of the fence you were on…if you were in need, I believed you needed help.”
Johnson says her salary was paid from Barron’s Senate budget, except when she was working on his campaign. To assist in her job, she said Barron gave her the use of leased 2007 Toyota Camry. Johnson said (to her knowledge) that the Camry was paid for out of the campaign fund. In the State’s case against Johnson, it is charged that Barron improperly transferred the vehicle to her after he lost his senate seat in 2010.
Johnson says that Barron did give her the car after the 2010 election. When Barron’s office began disposing assets, it was found that only an $11.00 payment remained on the three year old vehicle, so it was decided to let Johnson keep the car rather than retuning it to the leasing company. Johnson said she didn’t see anything inappropriate about her accepting to car as it was “ the same vehicle I’d been driving all the time.”
In total, the Attorney General’s office has accused Johnson of improperly receiving $58,000 in cash and the Toyota from Barron.
Johnson, who is single, lives in Scottsboro, a town of around 14,000 people. Johnson says it has been difficult because everyone knows what has been said but few know the whole story. “Three years of going through all this…It’s been horrible on me and my family,” she said.
As with any small town, scandals involving high-profile men such as Barron tend to initiate an abundance of rumors. Most poignantly has been the rumor that Johnson was Barron’s paramour.
When Johnson first met Barron she was married, but later divorced her husband of 10 years in 2008. Johnson says that Barron was divorced from his second wife, Susan, when she met him. When asked if she and Barron had an affair Johnson said, “Anyone who really knows me knows that…I worked for Barron…and another thing I’d like to say is, I’m not married and neither is Barron so even with that right there it wouldn’t even matter.”
Beyond the turmoil of the State’s case against Johnson, her son committed suicide in the middle of the investigation. Johnson said it was too painful to talk about the loss of her son.
Johnson said she believes she did nothing wrong and that she is proud of the work she did while in Barron’s employ.
She admits that her relationship with the 71-year-old former senator is strained. Johnson says she is constantly concerned about her exclusion from major developments in the case and is worried that she is not fully informed about activities that will impact her future before the court.