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A Tale of Two Justices Getting to Know Supreme Court’s Newest Members 1/19/19  01/21/19 12:03:46 PM Printer Friendly VersionPrinter Friendly Version

Nebraska Supreme Court Justices Jonathan Papik (left) and John Freudenberg attended the Nebraska Bar Association’s Annual Meeting in October.
A Tale of Two Justices
Getting to Know Supreme Court’s Newest Members

By Lorraine Boyd
The Daily Record

Two new justices joined the Nebraska Supreme Court in 2018, both appointed by Gov. Pete Ricketts. One, taking office at 36, is the youngest ever to serve on the Nebraska Supreme Court. The other is the second youngest justice now serving on the court. Jonathan Papik and John Freudenberg complete
the court of six justices and a chief justice.
Papik, a native of Stromsburg, holds a law degree from Harvard, graduating magna cum laude. He clerked for Neil Gorsuch, now a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, who was then on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, as well as for Laurence Silberman, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Papik maintained
a relationship with Justice Gorsuch as friend and mentor, so much so that Papik invited him to administer his oath, which he did on May 7, 2018, in Lincoln.
Before his ascension to the bench, Papik worked at the Omaha law firm of Cline Williams Wright Johnson & Oldfather, L.L.P. for nearly eight years.
Freudenberg’s path to the Nebraska Supreme Court began
with his graduation from the University of Nebraska College of Law. After serving in a private law firm for a year, he joined the Scotts Bluff County Attorney’s Office, then moved to the Sheridan County Attorney’s Office as a special prosecutor.
During that time, he was also special assistant attorney general
and a partner at Smith, King & Freudenberg, P.C. He spent 10 years as criminal bureau chief for the District of Nebraska Attorney General’s Office before being appointed
a Lancaster County Court Judge in 2017. He was sworn in as a justice by Lancaster County Court Judge Matthew Acton on August 10, 2018.
We joined Papik, now 37, and Freudenberg, 49, to discuss their new roles. Here are their responses to our questions.
Q: What surprises you most about your job as a Supreme Court Justice?
Associate Justice Jonathan Papik: I don’t know if surprised is the right word, but before being appointed, I didn’t appreciate how much administrative work the Supreme Court does. I was obviously aware of the Court’s work hearing and deciding cases, but I didn’t give a lot of thought to the fact that the Court is also leading an entire branch of government.
Associate Justice John Freudenberg: In my new position on surprised
by the very limited day to day interactions I have had with others in the legal profession.
Q: Is there one thing in your previous career that was the most helpful in preparing you for this role? Why?
JP: Immediately after graduating from law school but before entering private practice, I clerked for two different federal judges, then-Judge Neil Gorsuch of the 10th Circuit and Laurence Silberman of the D.C. Circuit. I learned a great deal from both judges about professionalism, the law, legal writing and the judicial role. Those opportunities were very valuable to me as a practicing lawyer and even more valuable to me on the bench.
JF: In the positions I held prior to my appointment, I often was faced with situations which posed difficult legal issues. Those experiences helped me understand the importance of fairly and impartially identifying and applying the established law to a wide variety of factual situations.
Q: What are your goals as a justice?
JP: My goal is to apply the law fairly and impartially in every case that comes before me and to write opinions that are clear and helpful for both other judges and lawyers.
JF: As a justice, my goal is to impartially interpret the laws and Constitution of the State of Nebraska to ensure they are fairly applied to all.
Q: Who are your mentors, then and now?
JP: I consider both judges I worked for to be professional mentors. I also learned a great deal from many of the lawyers with whom I had the privilege to practice law with at Cline Williams – Jim and Trent Bausch, Andy Strotman, Rick Jeffries, Andy Barry, Mark Christensen to name a few.
In my current role, all of my new colleagues have been very welcoming and helpful to me since my appointment.
JF: There are a number of people I have considered mentors over the years. Professor George Watson, from Chadron State College, and my colleagues, Mike Varn, Dennis King, Mike Smith, and Judge Charles Plantz, have each played a significant and positive role in my legal career.
Q: How’s the work/life juggling working for you?
JP: Like many jobs, you have to balance your responsibilities at work with your other responsibilities.
JF: It is important to me to find balance between work and my personal life. I am still in the transition period where I am establishing where that line is.
Q: What do you do to decompress after work?
JP: My wife and I have three kids (8, 6, and 4). Most of my time outside of work is spent with them. I also enjoy playing basketball and running.
JF: I help coach my children’s youth sports teams and travel.
Q: Has the transition from your previous legal career been a challenge?
JP: I think it’s always a challenge to do something that is brand new, and this is no exception. That said, I’ve really enjoyed my work at the Court, so that has not been a bad thing.
JF: Prior to being appointed to the Supreme Court, I had been an elected county attorney, a partner in a private practice law firm, the Criminal Bureau Chief for the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office and a county court judge. I have found that this wide range of experience has served me well in my transition. However, even with this experience, the Supreme Court has presented me with many entirely new challenges.
Q: Did you have any lawyers in your family and did that influence your career choice? If you didn’t, what did influence your decision to go to law school?
JP: My dad, Jim, is in private practice in my home town of Stromsburg. He’s the first lawyer I ever knew and certainly played a role in my thinking about a career in the law.
JF: I did not have any lawyers in my family. My path to law school was strongly encouraged by my prelaw professor at Chadron State College, George Watson. Prior to taking classes with George, I was going into engineering.
Q: As a justice, do you think the job is more challenging now, in this politically charged atmosphere, than it might have been in the past?
JP: I cannot speak to what judges felt in the past, but I do not feel that type of pressure. I believe my job as a judge is to interpret and apply the law to the facts without regard to political considerations.
JF: Even though political tension exists in the public, such considerations should not play a role in Supreme Court decision making.
Q: Is it helpful to be two “rookies” on the bench, instead of being the lone newcomer?
JP: I think the other members of the Court have been very welcoming and helpful to Justice Freudenberg and I since we arrived. I’m sure that would have been the case whether we came in together or at different times.
JF: I am very fortunate to have joined the Court with such an excellent jurist as Justice Papik. I further had the pleasure to join a group which has continually demonstrated tremendous legal scholarship and professionalism.
Q: What is the best thing about your new position?
JP: I enjoy analyzing difficult legal questions and then trying to explain the resolution of those questions in a way that is clear and understandable. As a member of the Supreme Court, I get to do that with six colleagues, each of whom bring a different set of experiences to the position. The work is fascinating and I feel privileged to be able to play a role in it.
JF: I receive great satisfaction from knowing that my new position allows me to engage in important and interesting work. I believe these may be the most important factors in determining whether people find their employment rewarding and fulfilling.
Q: Any funny stories yet?
JP: The Court has a tradition that the judge with the least seniority holds the door as we enter and exit the Courtroom. When I was appointed, the other judges gave me a hard time over the fact that I wouldn’t hold that responsibility for very long. I believe Judge Miller-Lerman did that job for 13 years or so! Sure enough, Judge Freudenberg was appointed a few months after me, and my assignment holding the door was completed.
JF: Not yet.
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