Former Nebraska Chief Justice ‘a Lawyer to the Very Last'

C. Thomas White: October 5, 1928 – December 11, 2020
David Golbitz
The Daily Record

When former Nebraska Chief Justice C. Thomas White retired from the state’s highest court in 1998, he didn’t stay retired for long.

Soon after he stepped down from the bench, he joined his son Thomas White Jr.’s civil litigation law firm, White & Jorgensen.

“It was something that I’d always had the dream of doing and something that Tom has always wanted,” the elder White told Creighton University Law Professor Richard Shugrue during a 1998 interview conducted to commemorate the Nebraska Bar Association’s centennial.

Thomas White Jr. said told The Daily Record that his father never wanted to retire.

 “The idea of just going somewhere and not doing anything really didn’t appeal to him at all,” he said. “One of the things he told me he really liked about being a lawyer is, he didn’t have to retire. As long as you’re mentally fit, your abilities to do the job don’t decline with age.”

The elder White relished working with his son and remained active at the law firm right up until his death last month due to complications from a leg he broke while putting air into the tires of his car. He was 92.

“He came in virtually every day,” his son said.

Not even the pandemic could keep White away from the law.

“Even when he decided to stay out of the office, we’d talk on the phone about cases,” Thomas White Jr. said. “He’d ask about new clients, new cases, matters that were being submitted. He’d grind me on different theories of the law. He was a lawyer to the very last.”

C. Thomas White Sr. was born in 1928 and grew up in Humphrey as the middle child of seven. After graduating high school in 1946, he enlisted in the Army. Following his discharge, he used the G.I. Bill to enroll in the Creighton University School of Law. He graduated in 1952.

After graduation, White moved to Columbus with his wife Shirley, and they started a family and raised three children. Shirley died in 1970.

White was elected to serve as Platte County attorney in 1955. In 1965, he was appointed district court judge in the 21st Judicial District, and he held that position until 1976. During his tenure, he was the sole judge for five counties.

Thomas White Jr. remembers his childhood as the son of a judge as “very interesting.”

After an Omaha police officer was killed in a bomb explosion, the elder White volunteered to serve as the judge for the case after the local judges recused themselves. The trial took place in Omaha. At the end of each day, White would return to Columbus with a police escort.

“I would come home and there would be all these police cars in the driveway,” his son said. “They were inside having coffee with him before they drove back.”

In 1976, Gov. James Exon appointed White to the Nebraska Supreme Court. He served as a justice until he was named chief justice in 1994. In retirement, White was still affectionately known as “Chief,” according to his obituary.

White loved to travel and frequently visited his favorite country, Ireland, along with other trips to Europe, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico and Hawaii. He loved spending time with family, and he faithfully attended his grandchildren’s sporting events, concerts, recitals and other events. He was also an avid Creighton Bluejay basketball fan and an avid reader.

Influenced by their father, all three of White’s children became lawyers. His daughter Michaela is a professor at Creighton Law and his younger son Patrick is an assistant public defender for Cook County, Illinois.

Thomas White Jr. said his father believed that being a lawyer brought certain responsibilities.

His father said that lawyers receive a license and a set of skills but that, in exchange, they will see injustice.

“It is your privilege and your duty to not back away from fights, even if they’re not popular or not profitable,” Thomas White Jr. recalled his father saying. “His view was lawyers keep the law from wavering too far off of its course. They have to stand up for people without power to keep the law just.”

He said he believes that his father’s childhood, growing up during the Great Depression, was a formative experience that he never forgot.

“He saw a lot of injustice,” Thomas White Jr. said. “He was just as vigorous about it in his 90s as he was when he was 30.”


User login

Omaha Daily Record

The Daily Record
3323 Leavenworth Street
Omaha, Nebraska
United States

Tele (402) 345-1303
Fax (402) 345-2351