Stoler Lived to Serve Family, Law 2/16/18 02/19/18 11:46:07 AM
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Alan G. StolerStoler Lived to Serve Family, Law
September 10, 1953 – February 5, 2018
Everyone at the Douglas County Courthouse and the Federal Courthouse recognized the energetic man with the white ponytail, hurrying down the hall to his next hearing.
Alan Stoler was well known, well respected and well liked by the Omaha legal community and his law students at his alma mater, the University of Nebraska College of Law, and well-loved by his family and many friends.
He lost his battle with pancreatic cancer 11 months after he was diagnosed. He got the news just three days after he won a precedent-setting argument before the United States Supreme Court.
The Omaha Bar Association, in its inaugural campaign to promote attorneys and the legal community as filled with champions the Omaha community should be proud of, named Stoler a “Champion of Law.” They said, “Alan has been a champion for many ‘underdog’ cases over the years, including an almost two-decade-long push against the 100-to-1 disparity in lengths of sentences for people convicted of dealing crack cocaine versus powder cocaine, eventually ending with Congress stripping the term ‘mandatory’ from federal sentencing guidelines.
“He took on a case of a young client who had received [what Stoler deemed] an improper and unnecessarily punitive extra three years on his sentence, arguing it all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States … and won, getting the sentence [unanimously] overturned.” With that, he affected the future sentences of hundreds.
Alan opened the door for young women to compete in girls’ softball in schools around the state. He was also co-counsel with David Stickman for kidnapper and rapist Tony Zappa a/k/a Anthony Steven Wright, in a trial that garnered national attention and was the basis for a TV movie.
Bill Sweet, administrative officer for the Office of Federal Public Defender - District of Nebraska, recalled: “Last September, despite his illness, he presented at our annual criminal defense seminar on his experience winning in the U.S. Supreme Court. The standing ovation he received from all 125 of his colleagues in attendance tells you how much he was valued.”
Stoler practiced criminal law, litigation and appeals, and white-collar and drug crime defense along with his law partner Jerry M. Hug at Stoler Hug Law.
Hug said his law partner was “more like family.” He noted that their kids are very close in age. “What I’ll miss most is us talking about our kids. The most important part of Alan’s life was his family.”
As a professional, Hug said, “He had the insight and skill as a lawyer to find the legal issues that were important to his client. When I first worked with him as a new lawyer, he would give me cases and tell me to find a way to let him argue it. I learned a lot from him.”
Hug recalled, “He was persistent and constantly questioned the status quo. In the courtroom, he had a sense of the right outcome and he aimed for that. He was a good negotiator.”
There was a mutual respect between him and prosecutors, judges and defense lawyers alike, Hug said. He was collegial. “I am still receiving calls from former clients, some from 20 years ago, expressing their condolences.”
“He was a great lawyer and a great man,” Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine, who sometimes opposed him in court, said. “Solid, through and through. He handled significant cases and you knew he’d do a great job. He was someone you could always count on. He will be very very much missed.”
On the other side of the courtroom, Douglas County Public Defender Tom Riley said, “His whole career was dedicated to helping people who couldn’t help themselves.
He was a rare breed: both a great trial attorney and a great appellate attorney. Lawyers who excel at both are few and far between.” He said he always thought Stoler was operating on a higher intellectual plane.
Although Stoler spent most of his time in federal court, he still took some cases in Douglas County Court, Riley said. When he did, he would stop in to see Riley. “He was always willing to share his knowledge.”
Stoler fought in many “what I like to call severe uphill battles,” Riley said. “You have to have a mindset that you will not be judgmental. He did.”
Riley said his passing is “a loss for criminal justice.”
Stoler is survived by his wife, Kim, and children Madisen and twins Evan and Jordan.
Graveside services were held on Thursday, Feb. 8. Memorials are suggested to a charity of choice.
– By Lorraine Boyd