Eagles, Eiseley, Ed and time

My former law partner Ed, surely one of the best human beings ever, has a farm adjacent to the J-2 return to the Platte river from the small hydroelectric power plant near Lexington, Nebraska. It is a section of ground (640 acres) that borders the river and the return to the river from the power plant. It is some of the best agricultural land in the world.

Ed keeps the portion of the land near the river pristine. It is a magical place. I used to take the children there to watch wild life particularly the bald eagle. Eagles gather there all year. In the winter, the eagles are there in abundance particularly because the irrigation canal downstream of the power generating station and the river itself remain open as a result of warm water leaving the power plant.

Some of you may know of my love of Loren Eiseley’s work.  Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, and first educated at the University of Nebraska where he received degrees in both English and Anthropology, Loren Eiseley (September 3, 1907 – July 9, 1977) was a world-renowned anthropologist and a writer of unsurpassed talent. He taught and published essays, poetry and books from the 1940s through the 1970s. See my earlier post entitled All the strange connections and the classics. Eiseley was fascinated with time and the relationship of time to our physical world and our place therein.

I was reminded of Eiseley, my partner Ed, my children and the passage of time when I viewed the following photo of bald eagles near Ed’s place taken just two weeks ago.  The image took my breath away and instantly transported me back in time.

Photo credit: Lori Potter.  National Federation of Press Women President Lori Potter has been a staff writer, photographer and columnist for a small daily newspaper in south-central Nebraska, the Kearney Hub, for more than 25 years.

Photo credit: Lori Potter. National Federation of Press Women President Lori Potter has been a staff writer, photographer and columnist for a small daily newspaper in south-central Nebraska, the Kearney Hub, for more than 25 years. See potterspix.

Some things are more important than others.


A vignette on death

This is not an excuse, this is not an explanation, this is not a denial and this is not an admission. Literary types might call it a vignette–a small illustration that fades into its background without a definite border.

Scott Greenfield wrote yesterday that “Judge Kopf gives remarkable deference to police safety . . . .” Scott H. Greenfield, Doctrine v. Realism: Naked Mudwrestling At Its Best, Simple Justice (October 7, 2014) (italics supplied by Scott). Scott and I were debating the merits of Rodriguez v. United States and whether the case was worthy of consideration by the Supreme Court. That case involved the seizure of a a large bag of methamphetamine from a car after the issuance of a traffic ticket. There were two men in the car. One cop, alone late a night in the boondocks of Nebraska, had stopped the men. I wrote about the apprehension the officer must have felt and why I thought it was appropriate for the cop to briefly detain the men until backup arrived in order to safely walk a dog around the car. That prompted Scott to write about my remarkable deference to police safety.

On April 20, 1973, it was Joan’s birthday. I didn’t know it then. We weren’t married. My first wife had not died yet–that unexpected blow would not take place until the day after Christmas in 1986. George Amos, a Nebraska State Trooper, was on patrol. He had only been with the Patrol for three years. He was 28 years old. He lived in Lexington, Nebraska with a wife and two children. In less than a year, I would move with my family to reside in Lexington and practice law with Ed Cook.

On April 20, 1973, George Amos stopped a car on Interstate 80. He suspected the driver was drunk. There were two people in the car. A man and a woman. He tried to put them both in his patrol car. One of them wrestled Amos’ service revolver away from the Trooper and shot and killed him. Later that day, the two were apprehended after another Trooper rammed their fleeing vehicle with his patrol car.

Trooper George William Amos, Jr. Nebraska State Patrol Badge No. 9

George William Amos, Jr.
Nebraska State Patrol
Badge No. 9

Because everyone acknowledged that he was the best lawyer around, Ed was appointed to represent both the man and the woman. It was an impossible conflict, but the judge stood firm and insisted that Ed soldier on. After all, Dawson County’s budget could only stand so much in the way of attorney fees. To make matters even more complicated, on April 20, 1973, the same day that Amos was killed, Nebraska’s governor signed a bill that reinstated Nebraska’s death penalty. Seemingly, both of Ed’s clients were thus exposed to the death penalty.

I was then clerking for United States Circuit Judge Donald R. Ross. Judge Ross was Ed’s brother in law. I interviewed for a job with Ed shortly after the killing and he told me of his murder case, and the horrible problem he had representing two clients in the same case who both were subject to the death penalty. For some reason, I remembered a recent Eighth Circuit habeas case that essentially held that the Sixth Amendment guarantee of the right to counsel was violated when one lawyer was appointed to represent two death-eligible defendants in the same case. With that, Ed filed a motion apprising the trial judge of the Eighth Circuit opinion, and the trial judge reluctantly ordered that Ed represent the man only. Another lawyer was appointed to represent the woman.

The man was willing to admit the shooting if the prosecutor would give his female companion a break. Plea negotiations went nowhere until Ed discovered something about the date of the killing and the date of the reinstatement of Nebraska’s death penalty statute, April 20, 1973. Although the Governor had signed the bill reinstating the death penalty on April 20, 1973, Nebraska law provided that the bill did not become effective until 12:01 AM on April 21, 1973. The killers had escaped the death penalty by mere hours. With that, the prosecutor was willing to deal and Ed’s client was quickly sentenced to life in prison. The female companion received a sentence to a term of years. Ed’s client died in prison in 1991.

As the years went by, I saw George Amos’ children around town. I am ashamed that I can’t remember their names. From reading our office file, I knew all about Amos and his family. Every time I saw the children, I thought about Trooper Amos and his senseless, brutal and unexpected death. I contemplated the terror he must have experienced when his service revolver was wrenched from his control and he knew with certainty that he was about to die.

I still think about Trooper Amos, a young man who died for nothing. I am not the only one. On April 20, 2012, 39 years after the killing, Amos’ sister wrote:

Thank you to all for remembering my brother, George Amos. It is wonderful to know that he is not forgotten and that his life and service have mattered. It is always harder at this time of year. Our mother recently passed away and it is comforting to know that both of my parents, all 4 of my grandparents and my brother are now reunited. God bless.

Officer Down Memorial Page, Reflections, Trooper George William Amos, Jr. (last accessed October 8, 2014).

That’s all there is. For Trooper Amos, there is no more.






A “thank you” to my wonderful former and present colleagues

Over the last weeks when I was hospitalized and while recovering both of my former law partners, Ed Cook (the best lawyer I have ever known) and Judge Jim Doyle, called to “buck up” their old partner. Their calls brought back wonderful memories of our time together, and my love of these fellows. Never once when I practiced law with Ed and Jim did I feel alone. In common parlance, they always “had my back” while always insisting that our clients came first.

My judicial colleagues have done the same thing during my recent health scare. They looked after me with care and concern but with the proper perspective that our litigants came first. After I declared a mistrial before going into the hospital (because my ego forced me to try to play the “hero child” in beginning the trial in the first place), Chief Judge Laurie Smith Camp, Judge Joe Bataillon, and Judge John Gerrard stepped in and, with my complete agreement, took over most of my caseload. This not only burdened them personally, but raised all sorts of tedious and complex administrative issues that Magistrate Judge Zwart handled with nary a hiccup.

Maybe a three person law practice or small federal court is unique. All I know is that I owe a debt of gratitude that I shall never be able to repay to my former law partners and present judicial colleagues. Carrying for another lawyer/judge who is sickly in a small operation like my former law practice or my present court is tricky. In the balance is the concern for one’s fellow law partner or judge on a personal level contrasted with a rock solid commitment that the interests of the client/litigant always comes first. Striking the proper balances requires a well-developed sense of decency and principle.

Thanks to Ed and Jim for teaching me about what a law partnership can really mean when operated by lawyers truly committed to each other and their clients. The same goes double for the judges (and staff) of the United States District for the District of Nebraska, particularly Laurie, Joe, John and Cheryl. I am very fortunate and very thankful.




Dancing down under and other Sunday musings

Got up early this morning (the pain in the left thigh and groin is a bitch) and thought about the day and the week to follow.

*  Joan and I will attend a memorial service for Janice Cook Ross today in Omaha.  Janice was married to Judge Donald R. Ross, my mentor, for over 70 years. Ed Cook, my former law partner, and my other mentor, was her brother. She died recently. A wryly funny, and brilliant person, it is a shame that she will not be there when the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Nebraska Federal District Court honor Judge Ross’ memory tomorrow.

*  Speaking of the memorial proceeding tomorrow, Judge William H. Webster will be there and speak about his good friend, Judge Donald R. Ross. Judge Webster was a United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri from 1960 to 1961. In 1970, Webster was appointed a judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, and in 1973 he was elevated to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Five years later, President Jimmy Carter appointed him as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Then in 1987, President Ronald Reagan chose the judge to be Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He led the CIA until his retirement from public office in 1991. Judge Webster served in the Navy during WWII and the Korean War.

*  Tuesday, I start chemo. I get my first infusion plus “patient education.”  Ought to be interesting.

*  Fletcher, one of our beloved grandsons, lives in Australia.  In fact, he is an Australian citizen and is developing a distinct Aussie accent.  His dad, our son, Keller, takes Fletcher on Saturday morning outings to give mother Stacey a break.  Recently, the bushy, blond-haired boy busted a dance move during one those outings. As a dancer, the kid is better than his father, but that’s not saying much.  Too funny!

*  The river of life and all that . . . .


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