Three prospective candidates to fill a vacancy on the Nebraska Supreme Court have been forwarded to Gov. Pete Ricketts. This will be Ricketts first opportunity to select a justice for the state’s highest court.
The candidates forwarded by the bi-partisan Judicial Nominating Commission all but assure the court’s newest member will be a woman for only the second time in the state’s history.
The three remaining candidates are:
- Judge Riko Bishop, serving on the Nebraska Court of Appeals since 2013.
- Amie Martinez, a private practice attorney and president of the Nebraska Bar Association.
- Judge Stephanie Stacy, a Lancaster County District Court judge appointed in2011.
Gary Young, a private practice attorney in Lincoln, applied for the open seat was not advanced for consideration.
The new judge will replace Kenneth C. Stephan of the First Judicial District, serving the Lincoln area. Stephan retired July 1 after 18 years on the Supreme Court.
The nine-member commission made their recommendation shortly after each of the candidates spoke at a public hearing to review their qualifications.
No one spoke in opposition to any of the four.
In her presentation Judge Bishop emphasized her experience on the Court of Appeals, reviewing lower court cases when challenged for procedural reasons or when someone claims the law was applied improperly. She was the only candidate with experience at the bench with appellate court experience similar to the role of the Supreme Court. On seven occasions she temporarily filled in for absent justices on cases heard by the high court.
Bishop noted she had also worked on solving issues facing the state’s judicial branch including racial disparity on juries, expanding the services of foreign language interpreters in the courtroom, and re-examining how divorce cases are handled with the potential impact on the children of the separating couple in mind.
Judge Stacy may be best known as the Lincoln-based judge who temporarily put the brakes on the XL Keystone pipeline project. Her judgment, arguing the state had given the project approval was unconstitutional, was later overturned by the state Supreme Court. Stacy had been appointed by then Gov. Dave Heinemann, whom she ruled against.
While not referring to any specific case in her appearance before the nominating commission, Stacy noted that as a District Court judge in the home jurisdiction of the state capitol it gave her a unique opportunity to review cases from all arenas of government.
From the time she passed the bar exam, Stacy said she wanted to get into a courtroom immediately as a judge actively applying and interpreting the law. She called her application to the state’s highest court “a natural evolution” in her 28-year career in the law.
Amie Martinez began her presentation with a most unusual introduction. She explained that because of a lingering outbreak of shingles she had lost muscle control in parts of her face. She wanted members of the commission to understand the reason she had difficulty smiling, raising her eyebrow and saying the letter “P.”
While the only advancing candidate without experience in a courtroom, Martinez made the case that two decades of appearances in state and federal courts at all levels gave her a through understanding of the job and the responsibilities.
Stating she was ready for “a new challenge,” Martinez said her primary interest was in the appellate courts and she had no interest in becoming a judge at the county or district level.
Questions had been raised about whether Martinez should be disqualified for the position, having recently served on the Judicial Nominating Commission. Ordinarily members must wait two full years to submit their names to be considered for an open judgeship.
Martinez was asked if she wanted to address the matter during the public hearing but elected to answer questions commission members might have in a closed-door session.
There is no word on how quickly Gov. Ricketts will make his selection.