Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Heavican received the Nebraska State Bar Foundation’s prestigious Public Service Award. The award was presented March 13 at the Foundation’s 32nd Annual Fellows Dinner at the Holland Center in Omaha.
Presenting the award was District Court Judge John Colborn. Chief Justice Heavican and Judge Colborn worked together early in their law careers in the Lancaster County Attorney’s Office under former County Attorney Ron Lahners, now a retired Administrative Law Judge. In his acceptance remarks, Chief Justice Heavican acknowledged Lahners, who was in attendance.
The Public Service Award honors a lawyer employed by the government whose performance is deserving of recognition. Chief Justice Heavican has served the public in various positions for 45 years.
Chief Justice Heavican said, “I am in the enviable position of being able to get credit for the good works other people do.” He recognized his colleagues on the Supreme Court. He also acknowledged his law clerks and staff, Court Administrator Corey Steel and Doris Huffman and Steve Guenzel of the Bar Foundation. Huffman is executive director of the Foundation and Guenzel is president.
“We encourage all of our judges to be leaders in their communities, and we always try to get them to answer the question, ‘Is there a way we could do this better?’ I am sure many of the you in the legal profession have heard me say that before, and you all have literally responded in the last 13 or 14 years answering that question. The legal profession, like the rest of the world, is transitioning extremely rapidly with technology and all kinds of other things we have to do. So please keep trying to answer that question, ‘Is there a way we can do this better?’” Heavican said.
Judge Colborn said a nominator wrote the following about Chief Justice Heavican: “As anyone familiar with the Chief and his lifetime record of public service would know, this nomination is more than well-deserved. The primary reason is the fact that whenever I attend a Bar Foundation or a Nebraska Bar event or activity, Chief Justice Heavican is there.”
The nominator said Heavican’s presence at legal functions “demonstrates a commitment and expenditure of time and energy exceeding all expectations.”
“We would all agree, our Chief Justice shows up everywhere, at all hours, and it is more than simply making an appearance. Like tonight, and every Foundation Fellows Dinner, and every Foundation Annual Meeting breakfast, and most Foundation events - whether they involve lawyers or students or both,” Judge Colborn said.
Colborn added, “Our Chief Justice is approachable, he is knowledgeable, and he cares. He cares about the health and well-being of our legal community as much he cares about the individual communities here in Nebraska,” Colburn added. “His commitment to the legal community and to impartiality is matched only by his loyalty to his roots.” His office walls are dotted with historic photos of Colfax County, where he grew up on a family farm and graduated from Schuyler High School.
Chief Justice Heavican was a Chief Deputy Lancaster County Attorney before being elected County Attorney, where he served for 10 years. He served another 10 years as Assistant U.S. Attorney and five years as U.S. Attorney before being appointed to the Supreme Court in 2006.
Chief Justice Heavican is a 1969 graduate of the University of Nebraska and a 1974 graduate of the NU College of Law. He is a Distinguished Foundation Fellow who has achieved Silver Fellow Lifetime status. He chairs the Foundation’s Bench Media Committee, which is dedicated to maintaining a professional working relationship among lawyers, the courts and the media. And he has been a strong advocate of the Foundation’s Judge Lyle Strom High School Mock Trial Program, where he presents a medallion to each student at the Recognition Banquet. Before his law career, he taught high school English.
On the national level, Chief Justice Heavican is chair of the Criminal Justice Committee of the Conference of Chief Justices. He is a former president of the Conference of Chief Justices – the only Nebraska Chief Justice to have served as president – and former member of the Committee on Federal-State Jurisdiction of the Judicial Conference of the United States.
The Nebraska State Bar Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization dedicated to serving the citizens of Nebraska and the legal profession through the administration and funding of innovative and creative programs directed toward the improvement of the administration of justice and the fulfillment of the American vision of equal justice for all.
The Foundation’s theme for 2020 “Educate to Engage: Citizenship through Civics.” Thirty distinguished Nebraska lawyers were honored as 2019 Foundation Fellows at the Fellows Dinner.