Chief justice notes successes, challenges

Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican delivered his State of the Judiciary address to lawmakers Feb. 21.

He began by noting the “extraordinary measures” taken to fill the approximately 1,600 vacant judicial positions across the state, as of July 2022.

“Along with the new and partially implemented comprehensive salary study, we began giving hiring and referral bonuses as well as retention benefits,” Heavican said. “We also upgraded our judicial branch education opportunities to improve skills and encourage advancement to leadership positions.”

Calling special attention to probation, Heavican said evidence-based practices and innovative programs have transformed probation administration in recent years, bringing national acclaim to the state. 

In addition, he said, efficient and economical management of both adult and juvenile probation has allowed the Nebraska Supreme Court to return $35 million to the state general fund in the last two state budget cycles.

With those successes, however, Heavican noted that challenges remain – most notably in the area of mental health. The Legislature has increased provider reimbursement rates in recent years, he said, but the need to expand provider access remains, particularly 24-hour care facilities for the mentally ill. Currently, county jails are the default 24-hour facility, he said.

“I would also call your attention to the ongoing and long-standing problem of mental health competency determinations for criminal defendants to stand trial,” Heavican said. “The Lincoln Regional Center currently has a six month backlog to perform such evaluations. This problem has festered for years and needs a resource supplement.”

Despite that challenge, he said, the courts continue to innovate and expand the use of technology to serve the state and ensure equal access to justice.

“Access to the courts in the 21st century means more than the courtroom door is unlocked,” Heavican said. “Please be assured that Nebraska’s judicial branch is always striving to find ways to do it better.”

Bookmark and Share