Thursday, February 09, 2006


by Kyle Michaelis
Over the last few days, Nebraska courtrooms have seen a lot of action on several political fronts we've been keeping an eye on. On Friday, a district court judge rejected the lawsuit initiated by several state senators challenging Nebraska's legislative term limits.

The Omaha World-Herald reports:
Twenty state lawmakers almost certainly will have to leave office after the end of the year because of the latest court ruling upholding the two-term limit on Nebraska legislators, State Sen. Dennis Byars of Beatrice said Monday.

"I think it's all over for us, quite honestly," said Byars, who with Sens. Ernie Chambers of Omaha and Marian Price of Lincoln initiated the court challenge.

Byars and Price are among the 20 lawmakers who will be forced to leave after the end of this year under the two-term limit enacted by voters in 2000. Chambers and 16 other lawmakers have two more years to go before term limits would affect them.

Under the constitutional amendment passed by 56 percent of Nebraska voters in 2000, senators are limited to serving two consecutive four-year terms....

Price agreed with Byars' assessment. "There is no way to save this first class of 20," she said.

That will make for a slightly less insane election season than that I first theorized about back in November when this challenge was announced. That might be for the best simply because the uncertainty that would have accompanied otherwise term-limited state senators getting on the ballot while this case was on appeal would have made for a truly terrible situation for voters and candidates alike.

Then Tuesday, in the sad and on-going case of Nebraska's Degenerate Regent Dave Hergert, the AP reported:
A judge late Tuesday vacated an order calling for a grand jury investigation into possible criminal charges against University of Nebraska Regent David Hergert for violating the state’s campaign finance laws.

Lancaster County District Judge Steven Burns, in a statement read by District Court Clerk Sue Kirkland, said “The order to convene a grand jury has been vacated.”

The statement went no further. Burns was not available for comment.

Holley Bolen, chief of staff for Attorney General Jon Bruning, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

But she and Bruning earlier Tuesday declined to discuss the case, citing state laws that require grand jury proceedings to be kept secret.

This news is pretty vague and doesn't do much to clear up the picture of Hergert's political future. That fight simply goes back to the state legislature where it was going to have to be fought out anyway so long as Hergert's refusal to resign from the Board of Regents for his illegal conduct makes impeachment a necessary consideration.

On the impeachment front, the Lincoln Journal-Star writes:
The decision by a Lancaster District judge to halt a grand jury investigation of University of Nebraska Regent David Hergert before it started and not say why befuddled lawmakers and legal observers, but does not negate the possibility Hergert can be impeached.

Some state senators who learned Wednesday of Lancaster District Judge Steven Burns’ decision to nix a previous order by another judge to convene a grand jury said they had never heard of such a maneuver before. One of those, Sen. Ernie Chamber of Omaha, Hergert’s chief critic, blasted Stevens on the floor of the Legislature, at one point calling the judge a dunce overseeing a kangaroo court.

“When a judge has behaved in a way Steven Burns has behaved it casts a cloud over the system,” Chambers said....

The chairman of a legislative committee charged with recommending to the Legislature whether impeachment is a viable legal option, meanwhile, said the judge’s decision “will have no effect” on the committee’s work.

The chairman, Sen. Pat Bourne of Omaha, and the rest of the committee decided recently to wait until the grand jury that it now appears won’t be formed to complete its work before crafting a recommendation. Now, said Bourne, the committee will move ahead.

Intriguing stuff. Much of the argument over whether Hergert's impeachment is permissible for crimes committed before taking office is known and has been discussed here, but it will be most interesting to see what ultimately develops.

My only concern is that this court decision might confuse Nebraskans into thinking Hergert has somehow been exonerated, which is simply not the case. He's already admitted to and paid over $30,000 in fines for his flagrant violations of the law - easily reason enough to remove this continued embarrassment from public office.

Finally, in a case on which I haven't specifically written before but which definitely touches on the much-covered treatment of sex offenders in the state of Nebraska, as well as the political future of Attorney General Jon Bruning, Matthew Koso of Falls City was found guilty and sentenced to 18 months to 30 months in prison for first-degree sexual assault.

The Omaha World-Herald reports:
Moments after Matthew Koso was sentenced to prison Tuesday for sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl he later married, his family angrily lashed out at the men who sent him there.

Both Attorney General Jon Bruning, who prosecuted the case, and District Judge Dan Bryan Jr., who opted against a sentence of probation, should be voted out of office, said Koso's parents and his older brother.

They said most people back Matthew Koso, who was 21 when the girl became pregnant, because he had accepted responsibility for his mistake and loved his wife and child.

They contended that Bruning took the small town case for political gain. "I want this in there: Bryan and Bruning both have committed political suicide," said Koso's father, John.

"Whatever happened to leaving things up to the discretion of the families?" asked Koso's mother, Peggy.

Well, I don't actually have much interest in defending Bruning (the man once equated legalizing gay marriage with allowing men to marry their furniture), and I've devoted considerable space to defending the rights of sex offenders. Here, though, I don't understand the supposed political motivations the Koso family assumes of Bruning, nor do I have any sympathy for what seems a just - perhaps even lenient - sentence.

A crime was committed - a very serious crime of an adult having sex with a 13 year-old girl. There's no question about that, and there's no question that society can not allow such behavior to go unpunished. Sympathy for the children involved (a teenage mother and her baby) can not stand in the way of justice - the best hope we have for seeing these crimes cease.

Koso will be eligible for parole in only 9 months. After serving his time, I don't wish him any hardship in building a life with his (too) young family. It's in society's interest that he be able to pick-up the pieces, paying for his crime but not to the point that he should have forever foresaken his claim to a normal life. This sentence accords to the law and emerged from the courts, as it should....residency restrictions of the sort I have largely criticized foresake this legitimate form of justice in favor of excessively punitive and unforgiving stigmatization beneath us as a people.

As for Bruning's supposed political suicide, I don't see it - not on this one. For all the difficulty in defending a sex offender from political hysteria, I really don't think people are going to get up in arms on the behalf of one who received a fair trial. The short-term effects it will have on his family are unfortunate but in no way unjust.

Though some might feel differently, I have a hard time thinking of any of these decisions in terms of political wins or losses. Without any particular evidence to the contrary, I choose to believe these courts' decisions are guided by the law rather than their ramifications for voters, politicians, and our public institutions. If such proves not to be the case, particularly in the Hergert case that appears to have been handled quite abnormally, I hope readers will join me in standing up and speaking out.

And it must just be that time of year. Tomorrow, the Nebraska Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in the legal challenge to the legislature's forced consolidation of the state's elementary-only, Class I school districts. While empathizing with the parents and communities battling this change, it is sad to see the extent to which their efforts have been politicized by the likes of our desperate governor, Dave Heineman, and the always self-interested Don Stenberg.

Frankly, the legislature had an obligation to Nebraska's students and taxpayers to force some sort of wake-up call on those Class I school districts that have increasingly become monetary and educational black holes. It is entirely understandable that a dying community should cling so tightly to its children and schools as matters of both public morale and pure economic survival. But here the legislature has done the responsible and, dare I suggest, merciful thing - not closing schools by mandate or stripping local control but rather by putting choices of priority and efficiency in the hands of school boards able to take a larger, less parochial view of the public interest.

I recently saw Congressman and gubernatorial candidate Tom Osborne speak, and he addressed this issue for which he has received some criticism for not being more supportive of the rural, Class I school districts hanging-on for survival, many of which are in his Third Congressional District. Thankfully, Osborne has resisted succumbing to these pressures, as opposed to the vote-grabbing Heineman, sticking simply to the message that something has to be done when, as he reported, there are 11 Class I's that have no students and others that are spending as much as $90,000 per student annually.

The legislature's hand was forced by those communities that have refused to accept reason, economic restraint, and their new reality. Again, there's little to celebrate in that but government actually choosing the responsible though politically difficult option, particularly in light of Heineman's cheaply undermining its efforts with his over-ridden veto and his continued attempts at reaping political benefit from this unfortunate battle.

Regardless of the Supreme Court's ultimate decision on this matter, I trust they will disregard the political pitfalls and decide as is best and most lawful for all Nebraskans.


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