Lincoln – Norman Krivosha, former chief justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court, made remarkable contributions to Lincoln and to Nebraska. He passed away last week in Florida.
A newspaper article noting his passing contained one sentence that should not have made it into print: "In both 1984 and 1986, he had the lowest rating of the Supreme Court members in an evaluation conducted by the Nebraska Bar Association."
This sentence badly needs more context than it was given. James Hewitt provides it in a 2005 article on the relationship between the court and the bar:
Bar leadership would undoubtedly have rated Chief Justice Krivosha significantly higher than did the bar as a whole. He was helpful, cooperative, and enthusiastic in dealing with the bar. It is difficult to understand why he earned such low ratings, unless lawyers as a group resented his public battles with Mike Royko* over the court's striking of the death penalty in State v. Hunt. Perhaps his death penalty dissents did him a disservice, or maybe it was his efforts to move tort law into the twentieth century. In any case, he was not a favorite of the rank and file, and the bar leaders must bear some of the blame for failing to make the membership more aware of his cooperation.
Norman Krivosha could rub people the wrong way, to be sure. Even after Hewitt defended him for the historical record, Krivosha did not return the favor. He couldn't resist saying that Governor Norbert Tiemann lost re-election because of "Whiz Kids who thought Nebraskans were too dumb."** Jim Hewitt was one of the Tiemann Whiz Kids.
I got on Krivosha's wrong side at least once. In the mid-70s, when he was advising Governor Jim Exon as unpaid counsel, I wrote something that came to his attention in which I used the term ultra vires. Norm didn't think people in the state budget division should use language like that. It was a term reserved for people who knew what they were talking about, he said.
Such could be said for the unfortunate sentence in the article on his passing. Norman Krivosha was a great chief justice and an even finer human being.
* As to the Royko controversy: I quit reading the nationally published Chicago columnist after his 1985 attack on Krivosha and the Nebraska Supreme Court. They had the difficult task of determining what the state legislature had in mind when it reserved the death penalty for "especially heinous" acts, as opposed to ordinary heinous ones, whatever those may be. Royko admitted to not reading the decision.
** (2013) Palleson and Van Pelt, Big Jim Exon, p. 85.