By Gordon Hopkins
Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Heavican and several Associate Justices visited the Jefferson County Courthouse the morning of Monday, Aug. 12 for a tour of the courtroom and a discussion of Nebraska legal issues and technology.
Also present were County Court Judge Linda Bauer, County Attorney Joseph Casson, Jefferson County Commissioners, several local attorneys and others.
“This is part of a program we try to do every summer, reach out to some part of Nebraska,” Heavican said. “This may be one of the biggest turnouts of all, so we really appreciate that.”
The Jefferson County Courthouse was originally built in 1891. Much of the antiquity has been preserved, such with the ornate wrought-iron seats, which caught the attention of Heavican.
“I am hugely impressed with this building and appreciative of the County Commissioners and the folks who keep it up,” said Heavican. “I’ve gone to a lot of courthouses over the year but I don’t think I’ve ever seen the gallery seating with quite those kind of chairs. That is fabulous.”
Probation was also a topic, as it has grown substantially in recent years. In some states, probation is part of the executive branch. In Nebraska, probation is part of the court system.
Heavican said, “The reason that probation has grown tremendously is because there is a big effort, as you are aware, not to build another prison in Nebraska. So community corrections is a big effort on the part of the legislature and everybody else right now. And in Nebraska, community corrections means probation. So we’ve had to gear up a lot of people who used to go to prison, are now put in community supervision-types of things.”
Heavican added, “We also took over Juvenile Justice supervision from the Department of Health and Human Services. So that meant a whole lot more probation officers, too.”
County Commissioner Chairman Mark Schoenrock also spoke.
“We have our own school attendance support program here and we have our own diversion program,” Schoenrock said. “We know there is a direct correlation between young people who are not in school and being in trouble.”
Curtis L. Maschman, Judge of the County Court, 1st Judicial District, was not available in person but put in an appearance via video conferencing. This gave the opportunity for a demonstration of technology that allows defendants, attorneys and court officers to appear in court whenever they are not able to be there in person.
William B. Cassel, one of the Justices of the Nebraska Supreme Court, was present in person and said, “One of my areas is technology, so I was really interested to watch the Webex (the video conference provider).”
He informed those present that the courthouse bandwidth will be upgraded to 20 mhz, which should improve video and audio quality.
Heavican noted, “The actual support for the Supreme Court, we’ve tried to shrink our folks, thanks mostly to technology, but what we do for our trial court judges has expanded a great deal.”