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Nebraska county court tests night court sessions

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska county is testing the state’s first night court sessions aimed at accommodating the schedules of regular people facing criminal charges who would otherwise need to take time off work or find babysitting services.

Lancaster County scheduled the state’s first evening court sessions for May 30 and June 27 from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., Lincoln Journal Star reported.

Lancaster County Attorney Pat Condon said he suggested piloting evening court after a successful nighttime warrant amnesty in November when 90 misdemeanor warrants were cleared so people could avoid arrest over the Thanksgiving holiday.

“If we can make (the court process) more accommodating to the people, then that’s what we want to do,” Condon said.

The night sessions are intended only for handling misdemeanor warrants, entering misdemeanor case pleas, holding non-custody felony case docket calls and preliminary hearing waivers. Also, the sessions can be used for a defendant charged with a felony who is not in custody and is pleading to a misdemeanor charge.

Laurie Yardley, a Lancaster County court judge, said a strict work schedule could keep someone from attending court during the day.

“They risk losing their jobs if they come to court,” Yardley said, adding that some judges already try to accommodate the schedules of people, especially when they’re representing themselves.

There are many reasons why people miss court, and it is usually not that they are trying to flee, Lancaster County Public Defender Joe Nigro said.

“People are presumed innocent, and yet sometimes the system doesn’t treat them that way,” Nigro said.

The night sessions will be costly because court clerks and sheriff’s deputies providing security need to be there, Condon said. But Condon and City Attorney Jeff Kirkpatrick agree it’s a more effective use of public resources to process those cases during court hours rather than have people sitting in jail.

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