Distinguished Judge Awards Presented to District Court Judge John Samson and Separate Juvenile Court Judge Robert O'Neal

Distinguished Judge Awards Presented to District Court Judge John Samson and Separate Juvenile Court Judge Robert O'Neal

Monday, October 22, 2018

Judge Robert O'Neal of the juvenile court in Papillion and Judge John E. Samson of the district court in Blair were awarded the Supreme Court’s highest honors on October 18, 2018, during the Court’s annual meeting in La Vista.

O'Neal was presented the Improvement of Community Relations Award and Samson was given the Improvement of the Judicial System Award by Chief Justice Mike Heavican at the Court’s Annual Judicial Dinner. The awards recognize members of the judiciary for meritorious projects and exemplary accomplishments beyond their day-to-day duties as a judge.  


Improvement of Community Relations

Judge O'Neal began his judicial career on the Separate Juvenile Court bench in 1996 in Sarpy County.

For many years he served the local Sarpy County community as well as the statewide community through his involvement with the High School Mock Trial Program. Since 1998, O’Neal has served as the Regional Coordinator for Mock Trial Region Eight.  For nearly 20 years he has arranged courtrooms for the regional competition, secured volunteer mock trial judges, and coordinated rounds of competition based on the busy calendars of both the schools and the court. 

In addition to his Regional Coordinator duties, O’Neal has also mentored the Papillion-La Vista Mock Trial team as their attorney coach. Every three years, when the Mock Trial Championship is held in Sarpy County, O’Neal serves as the local host, welcoming teams, parents, volunteers, and staff to the courthouse in Papillion.

O’Neal’s service also extends to other community involvement including numerous activities with the Papillion-La Vista Schools Foundation. He has served on both the Papillion-La Vista Community Schools Board of Education and the Papillion-La Vista Schools Foundation Board of Directors.  Each year he has assisted the Papillion Area Historical Society and the Papillion-La Vista Community Schools with the 4th grade Papillion History Program, providing history lessons of the old Sarpy County Courthouse and the Jail.


Improvement of the Judicial System

Judge Samson, who began his judicial career on the district court bench in the 6th Judicial District in 2003, was recognized for his leadership role in judicial administration. During the most recent Chief Justice Leadership Conference Samson served as new-judge leader, along with Judge Linda Bauer, in writing and presenting the findings of the Judicial Workload Equalization Committee. This year-long project was designed to assist in solving the ongoing struggle to provide fair and equitable assignments for judges and staff.

Previously, Samson co-chaired the Nebraska District and Juvenile Court Record Committee with Judge Robert Otte of Lincoln.  The report that was produced by the committee has served as a base for many subsequent studies within the court system.  Most recently, the report was used to inform the 2018 Leadership Workgroup on Consistent and Transparent Records in Courts.

Samson worked tirelessly to establish the District 6 Adult Drug Court in Washington County. He organized staff and funding for operations by packaging together both county and state funds. The first graduation ceremony and celebration was held in January 2018 with Samson hosting the event.

Samson has a well-deserved reputation for supporting his fellow judges both within and outside of the 6th Judicial District where he regularly substitutes for others. Earlier this year he was invited to sit with the Nebraska Supreme Court for an argument session at the State Capitol in Lincoln. He also serves on numerous committees including the Dispute Resolution Advisory Council, the Parenting Act Fund Policy Committee, and the Nebraska Family Mediator Standards Committee.


When bringing the awards presentation to a close, Chief Justice Heavican thanked both judges for their dedication to the legal profession and to their communities.

Photo: Judge Robert O'Neal, Improvement of Community Relations Award; Chief Justice Mike Heavican; Judge John E. Samson Improvement of the Judicial System Award, October 2018.