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Billionaire George Soros visits Loyola

December 4, 2009

George Soros, philanthropist, founder and chairman of the Open Society Institute, visits Loyola's College of Law on Dec. 1.

Loyola University New Orleans recently hosted an evening discussion between George Soros, philanthropist, founder and chairman of the Open Society Institute, and Loyola alumnus and retired Judge Calvin Johnson, J.D. '78, who served as chief of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court.

Soros, one of the world’s most successful investors and richest men, with a net worth of $13 billion, is the founder and chairman of Soros Fund Management, LLC. He is a former member of the board of directors of the Council on Foreign Relations. Johnson, who is also an adjunct professor in the College of Law, received the St. Ives Award this past spring, the highest honor awarded by the College of Law Alumni Association.

During the private event, Soros talked with Johnson and the audience about the open society concept, which seeks to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens. They discussed the challenges to open society around the world, in the United States and in New Orleans. Katy Reckdahl, Times-Picayune reporter and former Open Society Institute Katrina Media Fellow, was the moderator.

Board members from OSI met in New Orleans this week. OSI has committed more than $800,000 in grants to New Orleans area nonprofits. Of particular interest to Soros and OSI is the criminal justice system in the city.

“I was blown away by Mr. Soros’ commitment to ideas that are expressed in the open society concept,” said Johnson after meeting with him. “Having this happen at Loyola was very special for me because the discussion was so in keeping with the Jesuit ideal.”

Soros said his interest in an open society began as a teenager in Hungary, where he witnessed the deportation of Jews to extermination camps by the Nazis. Defeating oppressive regimes and the necessity for everyone to have an equal voice and freedom from repression fueled his beliefs.

Johnson, the first African-American elected to a Louisiana state court without first being appointed, sees a common bond and philosophy with Soros. Johnson grew up in the segregated South and has been active in civil rights since he was a teenager. He was once convicted as a juvenile for taking part in a demonstration.

“Fundamental for me is a commitment to the idea that the criminal justice system should operate regardless of who you are or how you are—you are treated the same,” Johnson said. “The rights and privileges some receive should be afforded to all.”

The two also agreed on the notion that effective client representation requires proper funding of the public defender system.

“Funding for the justice system should not depend on fees paid by defendants,” said Johnson.

To achieve its mission, OSI seeks to shape public policies that assure greater fairness in political, legal and economic systems and safeguard fundamental rights. On a local level, OSI implements a range of initiatives to advance justice, education, public health and independent media. At the same time, OSI builds alliances across borders and continents on issues such as corruption and freedom of information. OSI places a high priority on protecting and improving the lives of people in marginalized communities.

For more information, contact James Shields in the Office of Public Affairs at 504-861-5888 or jshields@loyno.edu.

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