Judge advises less politics in Herbster/Slama lawsuits
By Bill Kelly , Senior Producer/Reporter Nebraska Public Media
June 16, 2022, 2:43 p.m. ·
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After a District Court judge met privately with battling attorneys to sort our their grievances, the defamation lawsuit filed against State Senator Julie Slama and her countersuit against Charles Herbster moved forward.
Both cases came in response to allegations of sexual assault leveled at Herbster during his unsuccessful campaign for governor.
Lawyers representing the two appeared in court for the first time on Tuesday before District Court Judge Rick Schreiner. The case originated in Johnson County. For the convenience of scheduling, the first hearing was heard at the Gage County Courthouse in Beatrice.
Herbster claims Slama damaged his reputation in the closing weeks of his unsuccessful campaign when she and seven other women accused him of groping them at political events. In a counter-suit, Slama accuses Herbster of sexual battery.
Before Judge Schriener were five motions amounting to complaints about how one side or the other responded to the lawsuit.
In one motion, Herbster’s attorney Theodore Boecker attempted to “quash” the counterclaim filed by Slama accusing him of sexual battery. Judge Schreiner rejected that request.
A second motion requested a “protection order” limiting what Slama and her lawyers could say about the case. Boecker objected to statements made by Slama and her lawyers in legal briefs and on social media that Herbster considers defamatory.
He told the judge Slama’s use of sexual assault to describe the alleged groping was especially objectionable. Boecker used his figures to make “air quotes” around the phrase “sexual assault” as he addressed the judge. He contended Slama was using the media to try the case in the court of public opinion.
“Here’s the bottom line,” Boecker told the judge, “I don’t think this case should be tried in the media.”
Slama’s attorney argued the Senator was merely responding to accusations made by Herbster in his court filings.
Judge Schriener wryly pointed out he had read news articles quoting the colorful language in legal briefs filed by both sides. The judge asked both sides to provide him with written arguments as to whether some order should be issued to limit comments by the legal adversaries.
He denied the request for the protection order.
Attorneys for both sides must file their briefs with the court by July 1, and then respond to those briefs by July 15.
Over the past several weeks, the tone of this bitter lawsuit can be read in a series of harshly worded court filings and statements to reporters. Judge Schreiner made clear he understood the political realities early in hearing, when he interrupted Senator Julie Slama’s attorney Dave Lopez who repeatedly made reference to his opponents as “our friends on the other side.”
“I don’t think either of you are friends,” interjected the judge, “but I understand where you’re going.”
When the final motion came up, involving disputes over sharing evidence in a timely manner, the judge recommended a recess to deal with the dispute away from the spectators and reporters attending the hearing.
After a one hour break, the attorneys returned to court having negotiated agreements that they believe will allow them to resolve issues before they return to court. That includes trying to negotiate when Herbster will be questioned under oath in a deposition, asking him about the groping allegations.
By the end of the hearing, the original defamation lawsuit and Slama’s counter suit were allowed to move forward.
Julie Slama attended Tuesday’s hearing. At its conclusion she and reporters gathered in the hallway, “at the end of the day, election outcomes, politics have nothing to do with why we’re here today which is going through what happened to me and other women.”
Charles Herbster did not attend the hearing. He continues to deny all of the sexual assault claims.
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