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45 Years Ago, This Lawyer Made History 10/9/15  10/08/15 11:53:53 PM Printer Friendly VersionPrinter Friendly Version

25- and 50-Year Lawyers Honored
45 Years Ago, This Lawyer Made History

By Lorraine Boyd
The Daily Record

Today the Nebraska State Bar Association is honoring those members who have reached milestones in their careers: 25 and 50 years as lawyers. They will be the guests of honor at today’s Legacy Luncheon at noon in the Windsor V room at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Conference Center in La Vista. The George H. Turner Award will be presented posthumously to the Hon. Michael L. Offner. Other NSBA members who have died in the past year will also be remembered.
Here’s the story of one of today’s honorees.
William J. Panec
Few lawyers make a sweeping, historic change in their state’s judicial system fresh out of law school. Few become a judge immediately upon earning their juris doctorate degree. But then, there is only one William Joseph Panec.
Panec’s extraordinary career started with his graduation from the University of Nebraska College of Law in 1965. The Pawnee City, Neb., native had served with the United States Army Reserve before earning a bachelor of science degree in business administration at the University of Nebraska. Panec was mulling over his employment options, having worked during law school for “a fine law firm” in Lincoln who offered him a position upon graduation.

The Fairbury County Courthouse was a second home to William Panec for half a century.
Then he read a notice seeking applicants for a Jefferson County, Neb., judgeship. He called Robert Lammers, the Jefferson County attorney at the time, who told him a law degree was not required to be a county judge. Lammers asked him to come to Fairbury – a small town on the Kansas border in southeast Nebraska – the next day and talk to the County board. To his surprise, despite applications from about a dozen citizens and attorneys, he was appointed county judge on March 2, 1965. He was admitted to the Nebraska State Bar Association two weeks later on March 19. At age 27, he was the youngest county judge in Nebraska.
Two years later, he was elected vice-president of the County Judges Association and assumed the presidency the following year. He’d been doing his homework and now had a vehicle, he said, to help upgrade the county judges’ qualifications (requiring a law degree and membership in the State Bar) and to encourage the development of County Court Districts. Mindful of the interest by Sen. Roland Luedtke (who later became governor) in upgrading the Justices of the Peace and Municipal Court, Panec formed an ad hoc committee to investigate all the proposed changes. Enjoying much support, legislators drafted an amendment to the Nebraska Constitution to make these changes, which was adopted by the Legislature.
Despite only 12 out of 93 county judges being attorneys, they supported the measure and the electorate voted in favor of the Constitutional Amendment by a comfortable majority at the general election in 1970.
It had taken five years to achieve his goal, always working through the appropriate entities. He wanted to practice law – something he had wanted since he was a boy – so five years to the day that he became a judge, Judge Panec resigned. “By then, I had attained everything I could as the county judge of Jefferson County. Always wanting to practice law, that was the time to do it. It was my chosen profession,” Panec said.
That was 45 years ago, and he is mostly retired now. “I had 45 satisfying years practicing law, but the best thing I ever did [was to see that amendment passed].” He misses his clients, but he had to step back a few years ago to care for his wife, Ellen, when she was stricken with cancer. She died in 2011. He is now married to Mildred, and has a daughter, Becky Griffin, a son-in-law, Don Griffin; and a grandson, Logan Griffin. He’s currently working on his family history, including the story of his father, who came to America from Czechoslovakia as a three-year-old.
Mildred and his great-nephew William, along with William’s fiancé, Jessica, will be his guests at today’s luncheon.
Now you know the whole story behind the only Constitutional change in Nebraska County Courts statewide since Nebraska became a state in 1867. If you see him, stop and shake the hand of a man who made history – William Panec.
Others being honored today are:
Celebrating 50 Years
Ralph M. Anderson, Jr.
Hon. C. Arlen Beam
John Stevens Berry, Sr.
Paul M. Brown
James C. Cripe
Gregory D. Erwin
Edward F. Fogarty
John A. Gale
Dean N. Hansen
Jeffrey H. Jacobsen
Margaret A. Lawse
Gregory B. Minter
Steven J. Riekes
Donald R. Witt
Celebrating 25 Years
William J. Birkel
Mark A. Brohman
John A. “Jack” Cheloha
David A. Christensen
Linda R. Crump
Eric L. Dillow
Donald L. Erftmier, Jr.
Michelle M. Hynes
Larry A. Jobeun
David A. Reddel
Michael C. Schilken
Julie A. Shipman-Burns
Diana J. Vogt
Mary M. Wiest

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