A story about a public defender who was good at throwing hot dogs

Yesterday, when Steve, the former Dawson County Public Defender, walked into the office with his daughter he looked exactly the same despite the passage of nearly 30 years. Long beard, pony tail, western cut suit and a cane. He was in town on law business. He said that he was also going to attend the retirement reception for Dennis Carlson, a former assistant state public defender here in Lincoln and since 1981 the chief lawyer for the ethics cops at the Supreme Court. We both agreed that Dennis was a wonderful guy who had struck the right balance with errant lawyers–tough but not unreasonable.

Steve’s daughter was headed to college in Lincoln.  So, Steve had her drive from Dawson County, to give her practice on I-80 and in the big city that is Lincoln. We talked about Steve’s father-in-law, former Congressman Bill Barrett.  We talked about Judge Jim, my former law partner. Steve remarked that Jim’s commitment to the drug court was truly amazing, And, then out of the blue. Steve said he needed to thank me.

Steve is an interesting man. Aside from his unconventional dress and appearance, he came to the law in a strange way. He was a pharmacist. He went to law school, and ended up as the Chief Deputy prosecutor in Grand Island prosecuting drug crimes. He then moved back to Dawson County, opened a practice in a little town down the road from Lexington. He did everything, as we all did, but mostly criminal cases. When Dawson County decided to save money by creating a Public Defender, Steve became the first public defender for the county.

Steve was also a state-wide curiosity. He had a 36 year gig selling and throwing hot dogs at Husker football games dressed up in, well, an outfit that only Steve might select. The grown up young woman who was with Steve yesterday used to accompany him as little girl as he pursued his part-time hot dog selling and throwing business.

Photo credit: CBS News

Photo credit: CBS News

And, then he became a national celebrity of sorts. The late Charles Kuralt featured him on CBS. Then, in 2012, CBS and Steve Hartman profiled Steve again. Here is the CBS video: Neb. hot dog slinger explains his exit from game.  (Be patient it is a little slow to load.) Watch the video, it will give you a sense of Steve. Besides, it is a fun story.

I turn back now to Steve thanking me. Shortly before I left the practice to become a United States Magistrate Judge, Steve hired me to represent him on an ethics complaint. Long story short, there was a completely innocent mix up in billing in his office surrounding Steve’s private criminal clients and clients of the Public Defender. One of the state ethics prosecutors (not Dennis) got really hot and bothered and came after Steve with all guns blazing. I always wondered whether that had something to do with the way Steve looked. Anyway, after a lot of investigation, and a full-blown evidentiary hearing, the panel of lawyers hearing the matter decided the complaint lacked substance and dismissed it.

Yesterday, Steve thanked me for saving his law license. It was a good day.


PS I would love to hear from lawyers who have represented other lawyers about their experiences. My sense is that successfully representing a brother or sister lawyer is one of the most gratifying aspects of the practice.

8 responses

  1. A very nice post. We think it will be nice to have Betsy in Lincoln. Sometime I will tell you about representing Leonard Dunker. It was not much fun. We hope you are overcoming your fatigue. Jim

  2. Jim,

    Betsy is a bright and very poised young woman. She told me how Hastings College went after her hard and she was very tempted to matriculate there, but the bright lights of Lincoln were too much. At least she will be near the Hewitts!

    All the best.


  3. When another lawyer asks for help it gives me a sense that I must be doing something right to have earned that lawyer’s confidence. I still have a very expensive bottle of champagne given to me by a lawyer who received a private reprimand when the Counsel sought a much more severe punishment. I have consumed the wine and beer given to me by other clients after jury trials that went well. Its been 5 years, I guess I think if I drink it, the good feeling I had when I called to report the news will be lost.

  4. Judge:
    I confess that I never thought of it that way but, of course, you are very likely correct that successfully defending a fellow lawyer may be one of the most gratifying aspects of law practice. Yours truly has never done that but having represented children in family court decades ago (what I always called “the best gig in the courthouse”) is my functional equivalent.

  5. Vince,

    What a neat way of expressing in a material way your feeling of satisfaction. Thank you for telling us about your experience.


  6. RGK, I was represented in a personal injury suit by Terry Sibbernsen with the help of Andy Sibbernsen, recommended to me by one of your colleagues. My thought at the time was not that he would be complimented by my request for his help but rather that he would think a lawyer could possibly be a difficult and demanding client. I made sure I was a good client, Terry and Andy were wonderful, and we settled in mediation. Experiencing the mediation process as a plaintiff/lawyer was most interesting. I am sad to say I never delivered wine to thank Terry and Andy, but I should have! I think I did write notes of thanks, though.

  7. Mary,

    Thanks for telling us about your experience. For the lawyer representing a lawyer-client, it is not about a gift at the end or effusive praise. It is about the good feeling that spontaneously comes from being trusted by another lawyer.

    All the best.



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