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Friday, January 1, 2010

County court cases keep going, but judge’s absence felt

By: MAUNETTE LOEKS, Staff Reporter
Published: Saturday, December 26, 2009 9:09 PM CST

Business in the 12th Judicial District is going on as usual despite the absence over the last four months of Judge Glenn Camerer, attorneys and judges said this week.
Camerer suffered a fall and possibly a stroke while in Kentucky over the Labor Day weekend. He suffered a brain injury in the fall and underwent emergency brain surgery.

Camerer, who was incapacitated as a result of his injuries, had been hospitalized at the University of  Kentucky’s AB Chandler Medical Center until Oct. 1 when he was moved to a rehabilitative facility. There, he had been undergoing rehabilitative therapy for aphasia, a disorder caused by damage to the parts of the brain that control language.

According to information from the National Aphasia Association, the disorder impairs a person’s ability to process language, but does not affect intelligence and people can recover from the disorder. ABC News Reporter Bob Woodruff suffered aphasia after suffering a traumatic brain injury when he was hit by a roadside bomb while covering a story in Iraq.

Camerer has suffered difficulty speaking and reading and writing, according to records in a probate case filed on Camerer’s behalf shortly after his injury. In November, he was moved to a second rehabilitative hospital in Kentucky. His sister, Judy Grimm of Lincoln, was awarded temporary guardianship and a decision on permanent guardianship for Camerer is expected to be made during a court hearing in mid-January.

Decisions about Camerer’s seat on the bench are also expected to be made in January. Janet Bancroft, public information officer for the Nebraska Supreme Court’s Administrator’s Office, confirmed “It is anticipated that early in 2010 Judge Camerer or his legal representative will convey his wishes regarding his future on the bench.”
At age 64, Camerer is one of only two judges remaining in the state who were elected to the bench. Today, judges are appointed by the governor, but Camerer was elected to his seat in 1973. He is one of the most senior judges and one of the state’s most well-respected judges.

“The absence of Judge Camerer is being felt by the legal community on many levels,” Bancroft said. “All members of the Judicial Branch deeply respect Judge Camerer as a friend and a colleague.”

Fellow Scotts Bluff County Judge James Worden said Camerer’s presence has been missed.

“You don’t just replace a man like Judge Camerer without experiencing difficulties,” he said, noting that Camerer also served on a number of state judiciary committees and boards. “Not only is it one less judge in the district, but he had a huge amount of experience and wisdom to add to the bench.”

Camerer had started problem-solving courts in Scotts Bluff County, including a juvenile drug court, a family drug court and a specialized court aimed at handling alcohol offenses such as drunken driving. Worden said he has stepped into overseeing the juvenile drug court and expects to start becoming involved in cases in the adult drug court on at least a monthly basis. He said there would likely be some adjustments made in the family drug court.

“I think it (problem-solving drug courts) is a very good method of trying not to just punish, but to rehabilitate offenders so that we don’t see them over and over in the system,” Worden said.

In the meantime, judges and attorneys in the district seem to agree that business is moving on as well as can be expected. The district’s remaining four judges have been working together to cover courts throughout the district.

Through December, Judge James Hansen had come out of retirement to help cover cases in Scotts Bluff County. Cheyenne County Judge Randin Roland, presiding judge of the district, has also been covering cases in Scotts Bluff County and other courts that Worden and Camerer covered. Dawes County Judge Russell Hartford, the district’s newest judge, and Sheridan County Judge Charles Plantz will also begin traveling to Scotts Bluff County this month.

With the involvement of all of the district’s judges, there will be a judge in Scotts Bluff County every day except the fourth Monday of the month, Roland said.

Roland and Worden said they are not aware of any complaints about the timely processing of cases. Worden said he is aware that there can be some “unwelcome changes” with the tightening of schedules and longer waits before cases are heard, but that attorneys have also been helping the process.

“Everyone understands the predicament we are in and are pretty conscientious to make sure things get done,” he said.

Bancroft said judges throughout the state have also volunteered to assist. Scottsbluff attorney Howard Olsen said members of the Nebraska Judicial Resources Commission recently praised the district during a recent meeting for its efforts. He said district judges have even stepped in on occasion to handle county court cases to ensure the wheels of justice keep turning.

“Everyone seems pretty pleased with the way people are pulling together,” Olsen said.

Attorneys Andrea Miller and John Selzer, who serve as city prosecutors for Gering, Scottsbluff, Terrytown, Mitchell, Morrill, Lyman and Minatare, said cases have been handled in a timely manner. Initially, they said, attorneys saw some rescheduling as Camerer’s cases were moved onto the calendars of other judges. Cases are being heard in a timely manner, they said.

“As prosecutors, it hasn’t affect us as to when we get our cases heard or when we get into court,” Miller said, adding that prosecutors only have six months to file charges and take a case to trial.

“You can tell it is a little more hectic,” Selzer said. “Judge Camerer is missed, but all of the staff have pulled together through the shortage of a judge.”

Camerer had recently started talking about retirement when he celebrated his 65th birthday in January. Roland said Camerer would remain in his position until a judicial vacancy is declared.

Bancroft said that the Nebraska Supreme Court does have procedures in place to allow a judge to seek retirement based on disability reasons. She said only two judges have sought early retirement based on disability reasons. There have been no previous instances of a legal guardian or the courts having to seek early retirement on behalf of a judge.

The Nebraska Supreme Court Administrator’s Office will remain in regular contact with the judges of the 12th Judicial District until the situation is resolved, Bancroft said.
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