LINCOLN — Ever sent an email to the wrong person? What about sending one to maybe the wrong-est person you could send it to?
That was the case last week when an official with the Nebraska State Bar Association sent an email to bar officials, praising how the organization's attorneys had handled the “ill conceived and uninformed” questions asked by the Nebraska Supreme Court about the proposed rule change.
The problem? The email was inadvertently sent, as well, to the top judge on the court, Chief Justice Mike Heavican.
The email was not only embarrassing, but such contact outside a courtroom with a judge is improper and can force a judge to excuse himself from ruling on a case.
The email was sent by Omaha attorney Warren Whitted Jr., an immediate past president of the bar, just after the high court heard oral arguments Sept. 30. The case involved whether lawyers should continue to be required to join the bar, the state's lawyers' association.
Whitted apologized for the inadvertent distribution later on Sept. 30. The email was sent to members of the Bar Association's executive council. He failed to delete from the list Heavican, who is a nonvoting liaison to the Supreme Court on the executive council.
“The comments were not directed to you and I intended no disrespect to the court,” Whitted wrote in an email apology sent to the court. Messages left with his office Tuesday were not immediately returned.
Heavican, according to court documents, did not respond to the email, but notified the attorneys representing the Bar Association and the plaintiff in the case, State Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha, of the improper contact, citing court rules on such inadvertent communications.
The judge included the emails he had received and said it was unclear to him whether the email had any impact on the substance of the case.
But Heavican added he did not believe he needed to recuse himself from the case and said the email would have no bearing on his decision in the proposed rule change. He provided the attorneys an opportunity to file objections if they wished.
Lautenbaugh declined to comment Tuesday.
In a court filing on Thursday, the two attorneys representing the Bar Association, Mike Kinney of Omaha and Michael Fenner, a Creighton University law professor, said the email was one “individual's personal feelings.”
They said it was not necessary for the judge to step down from the case, adding, “The undersigned attorneys ... advise the court that they, and their client, (the Bar Association), respectfully disagree with and do not share the views expressed in that email.”
Officials with the Bar Association declined to comment when reached Tuesday.
Lautenbaugh is asking the court to throw out the mandatory membership rule because he feels the bar takes stands on political issues that run counter to his views and the opinions of other members.