Hon. Michael McGill 4/29/16 05/01/16 10:28:04 PM
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|The Honorable Michael McGill
May 12, 1939 – April 20, 2016
Retired State Supreme Court Justice Mike McCormack suggests “a tough guy with a heart of gold” might be a good way to characterize Michael McGill.
“We go back a long way,” McCormack said. All the way back to grade school at Holy Name in Omaha, in fact.
“I went to [Creighton] Prep in high school and he stayed at Holy Name for high school, but we still ran around together. He was a big guy – tough, athletic. But he had the perfect temperament for a judge,” McCormack said.
Bill Dunn of Gross & Welch P.C. L.L.O. also remembers McGill, not only as a colleague and co-worker, but also as an imposing individual – literally.
“He was a year behind me at Creighton Law School. I graduated in 1963, he in 1964,” Dunn recalled.
“He was a towering figure, a big guy. He played basketball in high school and was kind of an enforcer at the gym,” he said of McGill, who was on two state championship basketball teams at the time.
Dunn laughed as he remembered visiting McGill’s childhood home.
McGill’s family included his parents, Patrick and Elizabeth McGill, and six children – four boys and two girls. “His dad was a ‘rassler’ – not a wrestler – and if you picked a fight with a McGill, you were in trouble,” Dunn said.
But Dunn said McGill was not the kind of person who tried to intimidate people.
“He was very cerebral, and he did a wonderful job as an attorney anywhere he went,” Dunn said.
McGill received a bachelor’s degree at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, in 1961 and a law degree from Creighton University in 1964.Dunn said McGill left the firm in the early 1970s. His colleagues hated to see him move on.
“He was always so well prepared, and we wished he would stay. When Mike left the firm, I fell heir to a lot of his files. He was so meticulous and he left everything in good order,” Dunn recalled.
McGill’s legal career included an appointment as a Douglas County District Court Judge in 1991.
He presided over the high-profile trial of serial rapist David Burdette. Burdette was charged and convicted in 1999 with rape, assault, robbery and burglary. He had been released from prison after serving 15 years for raping three women before the new set of crimes sent him back.
McGill left the judgeship in 2000 to go to work as general counsel at Boys Town.
“It took a lot to get him to leave the bench,” longtime friend McCormack remembered. “He was a phenomenal judge. A square shooter, very fair. He used to get 100 percent when they conducted judge’s polls.”
McCormack also remembered that McGill was even well regarded by many of the people who appeared before him in the courtroom: “When Mike’s brother died, he got condolence letters from the people he sent to prison.”
Fr. Val Peter, former Boys Town executive director, became well acqainted with McGill when McGill became Boys Town’s general counsel. Peter also described him as “a towering figure” in a letter published in the Omaha World Herald’s Public Pulse after McGill’s death. He specifically mentioned when McGill sent a letter to Archdiocese of Omaha’s then-Archbishop Elden Curtiss in 2004, telling him, “You need to be more conciliatory.” Peter further wrote that McGill “was not afraid to speak the truth to authority.”
Attorney Gary Gotsdiner agreed that McGill was not afraid to tell the truth, but “he was truly a first-class, quality individual. He treated everyone in a fair, respectful manner.”
Gotsdiner met McGill when Gotsdiner first joined the McGill, Gotsdiner, Workman & Lepp law firm.
“Mike was a partner here for several years. He was here when I joined in 1978,” Gotsdiner said. What stood out about McGill’s
demeanor was the way he would tell the truth in a respectful way – a delicate way, not combative.”
“He was direct, but he was also a peacemaker. He tried to soften the hard edges,” said Gotsdiner. “It’s a good quality in an attorney and in a judge. He was well regarded as a judge.
“Mike was a good friend, a good law partner and a wonderful man. He was good to his family and highly respected by the community,” his former colleague said.
McGill’s work at Boys Town included keeping the organization current on human resources and employment law, and McCormack said Peter and McGill got along very well. McCormack also said McGill’s quiet demeanor, his knowledge and his legal acumen often left people impressed.
“He was a straight arrow, a great guy. He studied the issues, and didn’t pull his punches, but he was a wonderful person and he had very few enemies,” McCormack said.
McGill worked at Boys Town for eight years before he decided to retire.
Dunn recalled getting together with Mike and Mary McGill to play bridge, jokingly referring to the McGills as “card sharks – I was never very good, but Mike always won our bridge games.”
Mary McGill died in 2013, the same year McCormack’s wife died.
“We used to go out to lunch a lot,” McCormack said. “I saw Mike about three weeks ago. Parkinson’s had affected his voice. He had a very quiet voice. He spoke softly and he’d go quiet. I wondered what he was thinking, but I didn’t ask.”
McGill is survived by five children – Julie McGill, Molly McGill, Martha Scanlan, Christopher McGill and Matthew McGill, as well as 11 grandchildren and his sisters, Patty McGill-Smith and Mary Gen Betterman.
Services for McGill were at St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church and the funeral Mass was held April 25.
– By Dennis Friend