BY PETER DORFMAN
The 2018 Women in the Law Recognition Award sits on Belinda Johnson-Hurtado’s desk at the Bloomington law firm Clendening, Johnson & Bohrer (CJB). The award, from the Indiana State Bar Association’s Women in Law Committee, celebrates her commitment to helping people overcome adversity, and serves as a reminder that her own path to success hasn’t been easy.
Johnson-Hurtado, 48, was born in Chicago and grew up in Evansville, Indiana. “My father was 54 when I was born,” she says. “He was a self-taught machinist with an eighth-grade education. My mother was 30 when I was born, and she didn’t get her GED till I was in middle school.”
Johnson-Hurtado started college at the University of Evansville but left to have her first child. “I was 18 and pregnant,” she recalls. “I got married and had my first baby at 19, and my second at 21. At 25, I was working as a paralegal in Evansville. I didn’t know a plaintiff from a defendant.”
Her marriage broke up. With her mother’s help looking after the children, Johnson-Hurtado attended night classes and earned an associate degree, then a bachelor’s. By good fortune, she found herself working for Kentucky attorney Robert Hahn, a mentor who encouraged her to go to law school.
Despite some difficulties — among other problems, Johnson-Hurtado was in court seeking child support from her ex-husband — she arrived at the Indiana University School of Law–Bloomington. She brought with her to Bloomington her mother, two daughters, and her sister, who was in rehabilitation after suffering a brain aneurysm.
Johnson-Hurtado took advantage of the Indiana Conference for Legal Education Opportunities (ICLEO), a program designed to increase diversity in the legal profession. The program pays for several weeks of basic legal training before law school, plus an annual stipend for expenses.
In 2005, after completing law school, she landed at Mallor, Clendening, Grodner & Bohrer. The firm split up in 2010, and Johnson-Hurtado stayed with the part that became CJB. “I started working with Lonnie Johnson there, and have been with them ever since,” Johnson-Hurtado says. Now she’s a partner at CJB, specializing in commercial law and litigation.
Johnson-Hurtado remarried; her Mexican-born husband, Eduardo Hurtado, recently became a United States citizen after a lengthy and complex immigration odyssey, just the latest hurdle in Johnson-Hurtado’s journey.
“It’s important to me to help people,” she says. “I got to where I am because I got lots of help myself.”