Sarpy County Court Judge Robert Wester was awarded Distinguished Judge for Service to the Community and Adams County Court Judge Michael Offner was awarded Distinguished Judge for Service to the Judiciary on Thursday, October 15, 2009. The award, presented by Chief Justice Mike Heavican, is the highest honor given by the Nebraska Supreme Court recognizing members of the judiciary for meritorious projects and exemplary accomplishments that enhance the vision of justice within Nebraska communities.
Judge Wester was nominated for his long-term, ongoing service to the Stephen Center, a shelter for the homeless, along with and a newer separate residential chemical dependency facility in Omaha. The Center opened in 1984 and for most, if not all, of that time Judge Wester is credited as being a critical component of the Center’s success.
Wester is often found in the Stephan Center in the evenings during the week and on Sundays, checking on the progress of a particular client, performing maintenance work and cooking for Stephan Center guests. Often his guidance has either put a client on the right track for recovery or assisted in getting them to get back on it.
In the words of Stephen Center staff, “The Stephen Center is a much more beautiful and richer place because of the countless hours of personal volunteer service Judge Wester so selflessly dedicates to its needs. The health, hope and promise for those unhealthy, despairing, and doubting homeless are lifted by the efforts of Judge Bob Wester.”
Judge Offner was honor for his commitment Nebraska smaller communities, insuring that their citizens receive the same quality service as those in larger metro areas. Judge Offner’s solution came through technology and he is cited as the driving force behind his 10th Judicial District’s jump in technology use.
Offner implemented the use of Skype video and audio and the use of the WIKI calendar. The calendar, coupled with call-forwarding phone technology, allows the staff in his oneperson courts to keep their offices “open” without being in the building. Judges and clerks district-wide use the WIKI virtual calendar to view each other’s schedule at the push of a button.
Offner dedicated much of his off-hour time to researching and learning the technology tools and then implementing the use of selected programs in the court offices.
Additionally, Judge Offner is the first county court judge to have established National Adoption Day in his courthouse five years ago this November. His original intention was to celebrate an unusually large number of adoptions with an adoption day party in 2005 only. The Hastings community has now committed to an annual celebration for the full district and has donated proceeds from their yearly fundraiser to other courts wanting to start a celebration.
In presenting the awards, Chief Justice Heavican thanked both judges for their dedication to the legal profession and their communities.