Supreme Court won’t investigate former colleague Max Kelch, who resigned under cloud of ethics violation

Supreme Court won’t investigate former colleague Max Kelch, who resigned under cloud of ethics violation
Max Kelch

LINCOLN — The former Supreme Court judge who resigned in the face of an ethics complaint will keep his law license without having to undergo an inquiry from the office responsible for policing the legal profession.

State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha filed a grievance in March against attorney Max Kelch, who stepped down from the court earlier this year after a judicial complaint had been filed against him. Chambers argued that the Supreme Court’s Counsel for Discipline had an obligation to investigate a matter that made Kelch unfit to hold a seat on the state’s highest court.

In a recent letter to the senator, Counsel for Discipline Mark Weber concluded: “I am without jurisdiction to open an investigation of Judge Kelch under the circumstances presented … accordingly this office declines to investigate your allegations.”

Weber said a reading of the Supreme Court’s rules and legal precedent established by previous rulings convinced him that a disciplinary proceeding can’t be brought against an attorney when the conduct in question took place while the attorney was a judge “and the judge was either removed or resigned on the basis of the alleged conduct.”

Chambers, who has pursued disciplinary action against judges and lawyers in the past, said Weber’s conclusion was wrong. He has appealed the decision in a letter submitted this week to Chief Justice Mike Heavican.

“Either all of the rules apply or they don’t,” Chambers wrote in his appeal to Heavican. “If they don’t, then the entire superstructure of discipline collapses and becomes a byword — and total randomness and arbitrariness prevail.”

The details of the complaint against Kelch have not been made public or even acknowledged by the Judicial Qualifications Commission. But a source familiar with the complaint told The World-Herald it is in line with the national #MeToo movement of calling out sexual harassment. The newspaper also uncovered examples of Kelch making sexually inappropriate comments to women in work settings.

Kelch resigned in January after less than two years on the high court, saying it was in the best interest of his family. He was a lower court judge and county attorney throughout his career before he was appointed to the Supreme Court.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch will swear in newest member of Nebraska’s highest court

LINCOLN — A U.S. Supreme Court justice will swear in the newest member of the Nebraska Supreme Court.

On Monday, Justice Neil Gorsuch will administer the oath of office to Jonathan Papik, who will be the court’s youngest member.

The ceremony will take place at 1:30 p.m. in the Warner Legislative Chamber of the State Capitol. The public can attend.

Papik, 36, graduated from Harvard Law School and clerked for two federal judges, including Gorsuch, who was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Donald Trump.

The Omaha lawyer worked as a business trial attorney at one of Nebraska’s largest firms before being chosen by Gov. Pete Ricketts to join the court.

Papik replaces former Judge Max Kelch, who left the court in February in the face of an ethics investigation that an official told The World-Herald was related to allegations of sexual harassment.

Papik will serve the State Supreme Court’s 4th Judicial District, which covers parts of Douglas and Sarpy Counties.

Papik will be the newest member of the state’s highest court but won’t hold that title for long. Ricketts will soon make another appointment, to the court’s 6th District, following the death of Judge John Wright in March.