A newspaper article from January 7, 1879 recounts: “Sidney [Iowa] being the county seat is a desirable place for attorneys to locate and we find there is quite a list of them. Even Judge Day of the Supreme Bench, resides here; also Hon. T.R. Stockton, late Judge of the Circuit Court and the prosecuting attorney of this judicial district, Major Anderson. There are still many others as follows: Mr. P.H. Hoop, J.H. McDonald, the firm of Percival & Morgan, Hon. E. H. Sears, Mr. Eaton of the firm of Anderson & Eaton, Draper & Thornell, and L. Lingenfelter, who is also Mayor of the town.”
Johnson Law, PLC traces its direct history to 1917, when Hon. Andrew B. Thornell and his son, Andrew V. Thornell started the law firm of Thornell & Thornell in Sidney Iowa. Hon. Andrew B. Thornell was born in 1846 in New York to Joseph B. and Susan Thornell. The Thornells were abolitionists who assisted many slaves along the Underground Railroad in New York. After attending the University of Iowa, Andrew B. Thornell started practicing in Sidney with Draper under the name Draper & Thornell. Thornell served as District Attorney from 1885 to 1887 and then served as a District Judge from 1887 to 1917.
One of Thornell’s other sons and Andrew V. Thornell’s brother, Major John G. Thornell, was commander of The Roma, an ill-fated Italian airship that exploded in Hampton, VA. Thornell Ave. at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton is named after Major Thornell, who is buried in Sidney, Iowa.
By 1925, the law firm was known as Tinley, Mitchell, & Thornell, now including Emmet Tinley, who would later move onto Council Bluffs to the law firm now known as Stuart Tinley. Soon after, Carl M. Adams, the grandson of Andrew B. Thornell, joined the firm updating the name to Thornell, Thornell, & Adams. Adams soon left to become partner at Henry & Henry in Des Moines and was replaced by County Attorney Paul Nichols in 1931. Thornell, Thornell, & Nichols was located in the Esden Building on the southwest corner of Sidney’s town square.
The firm then left the Esden Building and moved to the former Fremont County Savings Bank Building on the northwest corner of Sidney’s town square where it remained for half a century. Andrew V. Thornell was appointed district court judge in 1941 and passed away in Sidney only three years later. Glen O. Nichols joined the firm to become known as Nichols & Nichols until Paul V. Nichols left the firm in 1950. John R. Thornell, a 1937 graduate of Sidney High School and the son of Andrew V. Thornell and grandson of Andrew B. Thornell, practiced with Nichols as Nichols & Thornell until Thornell left Sidney in 1966.
Glen O. Nichols practiced as a solo practitioner until Robert Leonard joined the firm in the late 1960s. After Nichols left in the mid-1970s, Jon H. Johnson joined as a partner in the firm that was known as Leonard & Johnson, P.C. The firm successfully represented the plaintiff in Page County Appliance Center, Inc. v. Honeywell, Inc., an important nuisance case that is often required reading for first year law students around the United States and has been cited in many subsequent cases and law review articles. Leonard & Johnson, P.C. also successfully represented the plaintiff in the often-cited Thompson v. Bohlken, 312 N.W.2d 501 (1981).
Leonard soon left the firm and Johnson & Graeser PC, moved in 1990 to its current location on the northeast corner of Sidney’s town square. David A. Graeser passed away in 2002, and Jon H. Johnson has practiced under the name of Johnson Law, PLC since 2004.