Chief Justice visits Fremont
Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Heavican, along with several associate judges, made a stop in Fremont to tour the Dodge County Courthouse on Monday.
The stop was part of the Heavican’s annual tour of courts in greater Nebraska.
Along with visiting the Dodge County Courthouse, this year’s tour also will include stops at 14 other courthouses in northeast Nebraska and two educational sessions in South Sioux City, a daylong tristate meeting regarding juvenile justice with chief justices from Iowa and South Dakota and a meeting with Nebraska tribal courts and tribal representatives.
“It is really important for us to get feedback from our local court staff, from judges, from community members, and from lawyers as to how certain programs are working, and what we might be able to do better for a particular community or for a larger statewide program,” Heavican said. “We use that feedback to help make the system better.”
During the tour Heavican, along with associate judges Stephanie Stacy, William Cassel, Jonathan Papik and Jeffrey Funke, spent time meeting with Dodge County Court Judge Ken Vampola and District Court Judge Geoffrey Hall, and toured the new District Six Probation Office and the Nebraska Mediation Center.
One of the main topics of conversation during the meeting and tour, was the county’s use of the District Six drug court program.
“Probably the thing that I think I’m most proud of in our court is our drug court program,” Hall told Heavican and the other Supreme Court judges. “We have about 40 people in our drug court program right now, and that is fairly common.”
Drug court is a type of “problem-solving court” where criminal offenders dealing with substance abuse issues receive comprehensive drug rehabilitation in lieu of incarceration or probation sentences.
Hall went on to describe a few success stories from the District Six drug court program, referencing some alumni of the program who participated in an annual drug court picnic held during the weekend.
“We had 18 alumni there that showed up and it was really encouraging,” Hall said. “We had one gal that works for the Stephen Center in Omaha which is a substance abuse center. She just obtained her license, so she is now a licensed mental health practitioner and she graduated from drug court four years ago.”
Dodge County Attorney Oliver Glass also spoke about the drug court program, and the benefits it has provided from his perspective as a prosecutor.
“The prosecution, at least in my mind, is about fairness and justice and our drug court is very strong right now. We have a great team in place and we are very dedicated to it,” he said. “It’s really rewarding as a prosecutor to see folks that could have been sent to prison doing great things, and the gratitude they have is really nice and really lifts my spirits.”
Along with highlighting the local drug court program, both Vampola and Hall spoke about their efforts to use mediation services provided by the Nebraska Mediation Center.
“I use them for the domestic cases, divorce cases, paternity cases, custody disputes and we are very fortunate to have a professional staff that works hard and are dedicated and are in the courthouse,” Hall said.
The Nebraska Mediation Center’s offices are located on the fourth floor of the Dodge County Courthouse and the private, non-profit corporation serves 24 counties in northeast and north central Nebraska as well as four Tribal Nations.
“I think we really do provide a different way for people to be heard, and to get justice, so I think that mediation is rising,” Nebraska Mediation Center Executive Director Jane Martin-Hoffman said. “Being in this state is great and having support from the top is great because I don’t think you can do it otherwise.”
Heavican addressed the use of “problem solving courts” and mediation within the county and district and thanked both Vampola and Hall for their work locally.
“There are programs other than the traditional approach to juvenile or adult justice that work and work very well, and they (Vampola and Hall) have both done a wonderful job of their approach to those kinds of cases in our courts,” he said.