Posted 10 months ago
By John Axtell
The 12th Judicial District Nominating Commission has sent the names of attorneys Larry Miller of Alliance and Paul Wess of Chadron to Governor Dave Heineman to fill the county judgeship left vacant by the retirement of Charles Plantz 13 months ago.
The 12th District covers the 11 Panhandle counties plus Grant County. The governor can reject both names, but almost never does, and usually interviews those recommended either in person or by phone before making his choice.
Five attorneys had applied for the judgeship: Miller, Wess, Stacy Nossaman-Petitt of Scottsbluff, Audrey Elliot of Gering, and Mark Raffety of Omaha.
The Nominating Commission…4 attorneys and 4 lay members, all from the Panhandle…made its recommendation in Alliance following a public hearing Friday morning at which the applicants were able to make their cases and answer questions from the panelists.
Each was given 10-minutes for their presentations, including any supporting or opposing comments from the public, but the only member of the public to speak was Alliance attorney James Moravic, who supported Miller.
The applicants were called based on the order of their applications being received, with Larry Miller going first. He discussed his 28 years as an attorney…which include both partnerships and a long stint as the fulltime Alliance city attorney…his family, and his long residency in Alliance…where the judgeship will be.
Moravic praised Miller’s work as attorney…both for the roughly 7 years they’d been in partnership before Miller went to work for the city and while he was city attorney. Moravic said Miller had a “very strong moral compass.’
Audrey Elliot…the youngest of the 5 and less than 7 years out of law school…said considered herself very experienced in multiple phases of the law despite her age thanks to her years in the Scotts Bluff County Attorney’s office and as the part-time city attorney for Lyman.
Mark Raffety told the commission he’d become very familiar with and fell in love with the Panhandle and Sandhills while spending several years representing the Nebraska Department of Roads in condemnation cases as part of the Attorney General’s office. An attorney for 22 years, Raffety said he also had extensive experience in criminal, juvenile, and probate cases.
Paul Wess cited the experience he’s gain in criminal, juvenile, and Indian Child Welfare Act cases during what is now his third term as Dawes County Public Defender and as a contract public defender in Sheridan County.
Wess said the court system can and should make greater use of technology…a priority in recent years of State Chief Justice Mike Heavican. Asked if he would move to Alliance if appointed, Wess said not unless obviously necessary for the smooth functioning of the system, explaining that he lives about a third of the way between Chadron and Alliance
Stacy Nossaman-Petitt said she also would not move to Alliance right away if named judge unless necessary because of the disruption it would cause for her 11-year old daughter.
Nossaman-Petitt 20 years of legal experience covers not only criminal and juvenile cases, but also bankruptcy law. She’s been the federal Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee for the region since 1999, and she told the Nominating Commission she felt that experience has helped her prepare for a seat on the bench.
Nebraska Judicial Resources Commission did not decide to fill the 12th District seat for nearly a full year after Plantz retired, putting off a decision while considering a proposal to move the judgeship to the juvenile court in Omaha and shift Sheridan and Grant counties into the 8th Judicial District.
A 4-month trial of having a judge from Valentine come to Sheridan County to hold court once a week was deemed an overwhelming failure by all involved, leading a divided commission in early December to officially declare the seat should remain in the 12th District and be filled.