Nebraska Supreme Court justices use tour to learn ways to better serve

August 4, 2018

Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican spoke to a group of attorneys Thursday evening in Norfolk, reflecting on the positive aspects as he was close to concluding another summer tour.

“When the court adopted this (annual tour) about 10 years ago, I initially opposed it,” Heavican told about 25 lawyers, judges and other court officials at Divots in Norfolk. “I have since come to believe it is one of the best things that we have done for the profession in a long time.”

The tours began shortly after he was appointed the chief justice 12 years ago as a way to see the 93 courthouses and meet with all the court officials. This year’s tour also included many county commissioners as well, he said.

Five of the other justices accompanied him on this tour, which began early Monday morning in Wahoo and will cover 15 counties before concluding Friday about noon.

Each year, a different portion of the state is visited.

Heavican said the visits help him and the other justices refresh what they know, allow them to hear from lawyers and help them provide better service for such technical aspects as electronic filing.

The tour included a stop in South Sioux City, which provided an opportunity for the Nebraska Supreme Court justices to meet with the state supreme court justices of Iowa and South Dakota. Juvenile justice issues were of particular importance in those discussions, Heavican said.

The tour also included a meeting with tribal court officials and some members of tribal councils, as well as the tour of various area courthouses.

Justice William Cassel, who is the second-most senior justice, said he was pleased with this year’s tour. Twelve of the 15 courthouses visited this week are in his judicial district, he said.

“It’s one thing to be stationed in Lincoln, but my heart is out here in greater Nebraska,” Cassel said. “I’m glad to be out with you all.”

Justice Stephanie Stacy, who has been on the court for three years, said one of the best things about the tour is getting to see the courthouses and the faces behind the names they read in the court record.

Seeing such things as how courtrooms are configured, where juries are located and learning how far judges have to travel provides helpful information.

“When I was a trial court judge, I couldn’t imagine what the Supreme Court justices did with their day,” she said. “I thought, ‘Well how much effort could it take to write a few opinions.’ ”

Like most things in life, she said, after joining the court, she discovered how much work there is. The annual tour also gives her a chance to let Nebraskans know that justices do more than review records, research laws and write opinions.

Each of the justices have administrative duties and seek participation to make things better, Stacy said.

Other justices on the tour were Jeffrey Funke, Jonathan Papik and John Freudenberg. Papik and Freudenberg both began in the spring.

Freudenberg said he began his law career in Norfolk, and then he and current Madison County Judge Michael Long traded places at about the same time. Long came to this part of the state as an attorney, and Freudenberg went to Scotts Bluff County, where Long had been.

“It’s an exciting opportunity for me,” Freudenberg said. “I’m still learning where everything is in the Capitol.”

Heavican said the Supreme Court has gone from a lot of “older” justices to many young ones. It’s beneficial because the young justices bring excitement and enthusiasm to the court system, and they are eager to learn more about the courts throughout the state, he said.

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