The Custer County Board of Supervisors interviewed four candidates to fill the position of County Attorney, vacated by the appointment of Tami Schendt to County Court Judge.
Of the four candidates, all but one is either local or has local ties. She is Natalie Duden of Lincoln.
Duden is a new attorney, with no trial experience. She is currently licensed in the state of Illinois, and says she specifically chose that state because 27 other states honor that license. Nebraska is one of them.
“And I never want to have to take the bar exam again!” she laughed.
Duden says she applied for her Nebraska license in July and should have that in about a month. She says she could be available to start a new job by Nov. 1, and said she would love the opportunity to live and practice in Broken Bow.
Next to take the “hot seat” was acting Deputy County Attorney Steven Bowers. He relocated to Broken Bow a few years ago, taking a job at Sennett, Duncan and Jenkins law firm.
Bowers came to Broken Bow with trial experience under his belt, having served in the public defender’s office right out of law school in Sioux Falls, S.D. He continued as a defense attorney until his recent appointment to the county attorney’s office. He says he thoroughly enjoys the prosecution side, and believes his previous experience as a defense attorney gives him an advantage in that he knows some of the tricks and strategies defense attorneys use.
Bowers made it clear during his interview that he would be tough on criminals. When asked his thoughts on plea bargaining, he stated that in certain cases he understands the benefits of that. However, when it comes to the safety of the community, he says violators should be punished to the full extent of the law - especially anyone who commits a crime against a child.
Bowers recently purchased a home in Ansley, and says he has every intention of remaining in this area “for the rest of my life.”
“I think this (job) is the best opportunity for me to make an impact in this community,” Bowers stated.
Bowers was not the only local attorney to interview for the position. Bill Erickson also interviewed for the job, taking a much different approach than any of the other candidates. Unlike the others, Erickson did not agree to give up his private practice to serve as full-time county attorney. In fact, he challenged the board as to whether or not the position justifies being full-time at all.
Erickson said he does not believe Custer County can afford a full-time county attorney any more, and that a part-time attorney and part-time deputy would be sufficient to do the job. He explained to the board that the duties of the county attorney are to prosecute cases, and serve as legal advisor to all county employees - and all duties of the job carry equal importance.
The last candidate to interview was James Neal of Urbandale, Iowa. Neal grew up in Broken Bow, and is a 1998 BBHS graduate. His mother lives on the family ranch at Stapleton, and he says he would like the opportunity to return to his home area.
Neal attended law school at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, graduating in 2009. He currently works mainly as a worker’s comp attorney. He is licensed in Iowa and Minnesota, but does not yet have a Nebraska license.
Neal says this is the first job in Nebraska he has applied for, and the application for the state license is expensive, so he will likely not take that step unless he is offered a position.
He says he thinks one of the most important duties of a county attorney is protecting the best interest of children. He said it is his stand that any case involving the neglect or abuse of a child should be prosecuted to the fullest extent.
The county attorney is an elected position. There are two years left on the previous term, held by now Judge Tami Schendt. The County Board of Supervisors appoints someone to fill the position for those two years, at which time the public will vote for the position.
The Custer County Attorney also currently serves Blaine, Loup, Valley and Sherman counties.
At the conclusion of the interviews, the board adjourned into closed session. No decisions were made.