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Omaha, La Vista attorneys chosen as finalists for Nebraska Supreme Court vacancy

March 14, 2018 GMT

LINCOLN — A judicial nominating commission selected four lawyers Monday as finalists to fill the vacancy on the Nebraska Supreme Court created by the sudden resignation of Judge Max Kelch.

The commission selected Omaha attorneys Christine Costantakos, Jonathan Papik and John A. Svoboda and La Vista attorney Cathy Trent-Vilim. Commission members made the selections following a three-hour public hearing on the eight finalists for the position.

Gov. Pete Ricketts will now schedule interviews with the finalists before appointing one to the Supreme Court.

Costantakos is a sole practitioner who said she specializes in family law and representing children and other vulnerable clients. She is a 1978 graduate of the Creighton University School of Law.

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Papik is a partner in Cline, Williams, Wright, Johnson and Oldfather and a 2008 graduate of Harvard Law School. He worked for a year as a clerk for federal Judge Neil Gorsuch before the Denver-based judge was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Svoboda practices law with Gross and Welch and is a 1992 graduate of the Creighton School of Law. He works in personal injury, product liability and commercial litigation and said his clients in Nebraska include Ford Motor Co.

Trent-Vilim is a partner in Lamson, Dugan and Murray and a 2002 graduate of the University of Nebraska College of Law. She works in the areas of appellate litigation and commercial and insurance law as well as legal malpractice defense.

It will mark the second time in less than three years that Ricketts will have appointed a judge to serve in the 4th Judicial District, which includes portions of Sarpy and Douglas Counties.

Kelch resigned his seat on the seven-member court Jan. 23, saying in a two-sentence letter to the governor that it was in the best interest of his family. The World-Herald later learned that Kelch had a history of making sexually inappropriate comments to women and that he stepped down rather than face an ethics investigation.

Although Kelch wasn’t mentioned by name at Monday’s hearing at the Sarpy County Administration Building, the circumstances of his departure appeared to have been on the mind of Kathryn Welch of Bellevue, one the four lay members who serve alongside four attorneys on the commission.

“Is there anything in your past that could embarrass your profession, this commission or the state that we need to be made aware of?” Welch asked each applicant.

All candidates replied “no” to the question.

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Commission member David Herzog, an Omaha lawyer, asked each applicant if their personal views on abortion or the death penalty would influence their decisions on the high court, especially considering the strong positions the governor holds on those issues.

All said that they would be guided by the law and the facts of the cases before them, not their personal opinions.

The commission did not advance Douglas County District Judge Leigh Ann Retelsdorf and District Judge Michael A. Smith, who has served in Otoe, Cass and Sarpy Counties. The two other applicants were Omaha private practice lawyers T. Randall Wright and Patrick Guinan.