Choosing a Better Path; Hanif Johnson is the Youngest Magisterial Judge Elected in Pennsylvania

Judge Hanif Johnson

We often hear the quote, “Your mistakes don’t define your character. It’s what you do after you have made the mistake that makes all the difference,” by Dave Willis. So many young people allow brushes with the law to deter them from achieving great success. However, Democratic contender Hanif Johnson did not allow his trials and tribulations to stop him from becoming the youngest magisterial judge ever elected in Pennsylvania. At only 27 years old, Judge Hanif Johnson defeated Claude Phipps, the Republican opponent.  His platform was simple: Respect the people that appear in front of you, uphold your duty and execute justice with fairness.

Ironically, Johnson is no stranger to trouble. As a teenager, he found himself going down the wrong path. He spent time in jail on at least three occasions.  After discovering track & field in high school, he turned his life around. In 2007, Johnson was the PIAA Class AAA triple jump champion and 2008 runner-up in track & field.

Per Johnson’s website, as a college student at The Pennsylvania State University, he studied Economics. He wanted to understand people; “How they make choices and why they make those choices.” While attending college, Johnson was Captain of the PSU Track and Field team. In addition, he was the President of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.

At 27, Hanif Johnson is the Youngest Judge in Pennsylvania

Once again, Johnson came before a Judge in his role as President of Omega Psi Phi. He was charged with allegations of hazing in connection with an assault, according to Black Enterprise. In connection with this case, two young ladies pleaded guilty.

According to the report, court records show that Johnson went to trial. He faced simple assault and conspiracy to commit simple assault.  Both charges were misdemeanors. The jurors returned a not guilty verdict. “Although a jury found him not guilty of the most serious charges, a judge still handed down two summary harassment charges,” according to

Johnson maintains he was not directly involved in the assault, however, he merely tried to break it up. “I thank God every day I wasn’t convicted of any felonies or misdemeanors,” Johnson stated.

Johnson did not allow his past to define him. The Harrisburg native made a decision to run for office. Johnson told the HuffPost, “Everybody always says, well, we complain about stuff, but we never get up and do anything. This is me getting up and doing something.”

Judge Hanif Johnson and Mom via Instagram

Qualifications to Become a Magisterial District Judge:

In order to become a magisterial district judge, you must be a local resident. In addition, you should be a state bar member. A Judge may not be younger than 21 years old and no older than 75 years old.

The Role of a Magisterial District Judge

Magisterial District Judges are elected by the citizens of the magisterial district in which they serve. They serve a six-year term. Astonishingly, Pennsylvania’s magisterial district judges do not have to be lawyers. Yes, you read that correctly! However, they receive training that equip them to handle all the legal issues they will encounter on the bench.

That is very encouraging to anyone thinking about running for this position. You must take the training course and pass an examination in order to take office.

Magisterial District Judge have duties in civil and criminal law under the Judicial Code.  Those include:

  • handling all traffic cases, other minor criminal cases and civil cases involving amounts up to $12,000.
  • setting bail.
  • conducting preliminary hearings in misdemeanor and felony criminal cases to determine if the cases should be dismissed or transferred to the Court of Common Pleas for further proceedings.
  • And performing marriages

The GCE family hopes Hanif Johnson’s story will serve as an inspiration to many. Johnson’s courageous decision to hold public office and turn his life around is something anyone with resilience can do.


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