1991 to 1998

Lincoln Bar Association Report

In 1991, at the request of Lancaster County Public Defender Dennis Keefe, John Guthery, then President of the Lincoln Bar Association, appointed a special committee to study and make recommendations concerning the system of assigned counsel currently in use in the various courts of Lancaster County.


Rodney Rehm, an attorney with criminal defense and prosecution background, was appointed Chairman of the committee and other committee members appointed were:

  • David Geier
  • Susan Jacobs
  • The Honorable Bernard J. McGinn
  • James Mowbray
  • The Honorable Wilfred Nuernberger
  • Alan Peterson
  • Richard Sievers
  • The Honorable Richard Williams

The committee reviewed and considered a variety of materials relating to the appointment of counsel for indigents in criminal cases. After a number of meetings, the committee made a number of recommendations in a report entitled "Assigned Counsel in the Courts of Lancaster County, Nebraska" which was approved by the Board of Trustees of the Lincoln Bar Association on March 6, 1991 and presented to the Lancaster County Board of Commissioners and the judiciary of Lancaster County soon thereafter.

Federal Drug Monies

Because of Congressional changes to the federal act providing monies to state and local governments for the War on Drugs, indigent defense systems became eligible for funding in 1991. Nebraska received approximately 3.3 million dollars in 1991 for the War on Drugs. Under the direction of the Lancaster County Public Defender's Office, Lancaster County was awarded $9,000 for training for public defenders and assigned counsel. Lancaster County contracted with the Nebraska Criminal Defense Attorneys Association to provide this training on a statewide basis. Some amount of training money was awarded to indigent defense every year thereafter.

Nebraska Civil Liberties Union Award

In November of 1991, the Lancaster County Public Defender's Office was awarded the 1991 Defender of the Bill of Rights Award by the Nebraska Civil Liberties Union. This award was given in recognition of the numerous hours of volunteer assistance that a number of attorneys within the Lancaster County Public Defender's Office provided over and above their regular working responsibilities, to attorneys representing Harold Otey, an inmate whose execution was scheduled in July of 1991. Through the efforts of numerous volunteer attorneys, the execution was delayed and the District Court of Lancaster County, Nebraska issued an injunction prohibiting the execution until a "fair hearing" was held before the Pardons Board.

Civil Clinical Law Program and Mental Health Commitments

In 1991 the Lancaster County Public Defender's Office contracted with the University of Nebraska College of Law to allow the Civil Clinical Program at the UNL College of Law to provide representation to clients of the Public Defender's Office in mental health commitment proceedings. The clinical program, under the leadership of Kevin Ruser, a professor, had received a grant for an advanced advocacy program. The program continued for several years thereafter.

Pursuant to the agreement, the clinical program used their grant monies to represent indigent clients in mental commitment proceedings. For a period of 18 weeks in early 1991, teams of two students from the UNL clinical program, under supervision of Mr. Ruser, investigated cases, interviewed clients, and witnesses, prepared for and conducted hearings before the Lancaster County Mental Health Board. Administrative support was provided by the Lancaster County Public Defender's Office.