Courts, Judges, Lawyers, and Hearings:
Valley Police Department, 1985 through 1993
"Yes. You will see me in Court!"

If you’re a cop, you have to go to Court from time to time. It’s part of the job!

So you write a ticket, or make an arrest and the subject shouts with righteous indignation, “I WILL SEE YOU IN COURT!!” as if were some sort of threat that I was supposed to fear.

I always replied, “Yes. You will see me in court!”

It’s interesting to note, that I never had to testify the entire time I worked in Buffalo County. I believe I only needed to appear in court about four times in Hall County. The two years I worked in Washington County, I probably had to appear in court no more than twenty occasions. I lost count how many times I appeared in court in Douglas County over the nine years I worked there. I was there a lot!


Douglas County Courthouse, Omaha, Nebraska.
Note: The glass roof situated over the rotunda.

Officers’ Testimony 101:

Like any other group of workers, you’ll find people of various personalities, skills, and talents. It’s the same with cops. Some guys, (and Gals for that matter,) were very comfortable in Court while others were very uncomfortable. Personally, I actually enjoyed Court! Call me nuts, but I thoroughly enjoyed the process, the drama, and the strategies unfolding. I was a speech major in college, and while I was not big into debate, I certainly had no problems speaking before an audience.

The Law Enforcement Officers’ second greatest tool is his or her report. Is is a MUST to learn to write a complete, accurate, and concise report. A good report will make the difference whether or not the matter even needs to go to court. If you have all the true and correct facts, the issue will likely result in a guilty plea before a trial is set.

A Law Enforcement Officers’ first greatest tool and asset is his or her credibility. This goes to your reports, as well as your testimony. If you’re the new guy, you have to establish and cultivate that credibility until it is rock solid. If you ever lose that credibility, you might as well hang it up. It takes time to cultivate credibility, but if that credibility is ever questioned or is tarnished, it takes forever to restore. It will never be the same again.

The primary job of the defense attorney is to cast doubt on your credibility. It’s his job to cast doubt on the credibility of not only you, but all of the prosecution’s witnesses. Once you understand this concept that it’s his job to do this, and that it’s not personal, your job becomes much simpler.

The defense has all sorts of tactics in his trick bag to try to diminish your credibility. In the most basic terms, the best way to deal with these tricks is to calmly tell the truth. Even if you think your answer might hurt your case, tell the truth. If you have already provided the prosecutor with a good report with all the information, and have brought any other observations or issues to the attention of the prosecutor before it goes to trial, he or she will already know what your answers will be when cross examined by the defense consul.

Next, keep your answers calm, concise, and to the point. If you get excited or loud, you will simply make yourself look like a hysterical idiot. You will then appear less credible. Your calm, frank demeanor might also make a loud, flamboyant, or obnoxious defense attorney look like a fool through his own efforts.

The Defense Attorney’s Trick Bag”

Now, let’s look at some of the tricks in the trick bag of the Defense Attorney:

1) Putting words into your mouth: During a trial for a speeding offense, I’ve seen defense lawyers start his cross examination with, “I hear that police radar has clocked a bunch of stationary trees at over sixty miles per hour!” What he’s trying to do is, without even asking a question, is to get you to voluntarily explain how or why the radar in that case misinterpreted the signal return, etc. If you respond, you have now placed yourself into the argument as an expert witness to something you did not personally observe. So what do you do? Absolutely nothing. You stand there with your mouth shut! The defense might then shout something like, “Radar has been known to register the speed of moving objects that are miles away…” or some other alleged mumbo jumbo. Keep your mouth shut! He needs to ask you a question, not challenge you to an argument. The bottom line is if he keeps this tactic up, the Judge will probably ask the lawyer if he has a question for the officer and if not, to move on!

2) Another way the defense might try to put words in your mouth, is when they ask an improper question. The Prosecutor would object, and the judge will sustain the objection. The trick comes to play when the defense says, “If the officer were allowed to respond, he would have testified to bla, bla, bla, bla…” If your prosecutor is good and alert, he or she will respond with another objection that states, “(But) the officer did not testify to that.” The Judge will usually agree.

3) Illicit an angry or emotional response out of you: I’ve seen defense attorneys shout, stamp their feet, pound their fists on the bench, make accusations, and downright insult you or call you an outright liar! Your response is to keep calm, stay cool, and tell the truth. You’re a big boy, you can handle it. If the defense gets to wild, the prosecutor will object, or in extreme cases, the Judge will tell him to back off. Remember, if you lose your cool, you’re thinking emotionally, not rationally, and it will reflect negatively on you. There’s an old saying; the man with the facts pounds on the facts. The man with no facts pounds on the table!

4) Asked and Answered: A common trick is to for the lawyer to receive an answer to a question, then come back a little bit later, asking the same question in a different way. Your prosecutor should catch it and object, (Asked and answered!) But in case he or she did not, it’s not out of line for you start your answer with, “As I previously testified…” Make sure your truthful answer is stated the same as it was before. Stay consistent.

5) A third way to put words into your mouth: Start with “You mean to tell me..?” Here the lawyer will paraphrase your previous answer back to you. Again, calmly reply, “As I previously testified…” Make sure your truthful answer is stated the same as it was before.

6) Highly technical questions: Unless you’re really are an expert on a topic, be careful with highly technical questions. “Officer, at what speed is the signal emitted from the radar antenna?” A good answer might be, “At the speed of light.” The attorney might then ask, “And what is the speed of light?” If you know for sure, you might answer, “186,000 miles per second…” But remember, you’re not an engineer or expert, so you might instead answer, “At the same speed as a radio signal.” If he wants to continue playing the game, he might ask, “What is the speed of a radio signal?” You might then answer, “The same as the speed of light.” The Judge will likely ask that he move on.

Nebraska Courts:

In Nebraska, there are no Municipal Courts. The Legislature did away with Muni Courts in the 70’s. Everything starts in County Court, regardless if the matter was a Municipal Ordnance or a State Law. The only difference was the violations of City Ordinances were prosecuted by the City Attorney, while violation of State Statute was prosecuted by the County Attorney’s Office. As a result, as Municipal Police Officers, nearly everything we made a case on was prosecuted as a violation of State Law. The instance of City Code, Nuisance Violations, and such which were a small percentage of our work, which was prosecuted by the City Attorney’s Office.

The first question raised when I’d bring up this process to my counterparts from other states, was how do they divide up the money collected from fines between the City and the County? Simple. Neither one of them get the money. All moneys collected from fines are sent to the public school district where the primary offense occurred. I like this. For instance, instead of enforcing traffic laws as a revenue generator for the city, traffic enforcement was done in the interest of traffic safety. i.e. Tickets were written to reduce accidents at locations with a high accident rate instead of where the most tickets could be issued in order to make money for the city!

The next higher court was District Court. District Court might consist of one or more counties in a district of the State, based on population and case load. Next is the Nebraska Court of Appeals, and finally, the Nebraska Supreme Court.

The Court Process:

I speculate that in the less populated counties many of my cases, particularly serious traffic offenses or criminal offenses were often plead down of dismissed due to political reasons. In Washington County, we had to constantly argue with the County Attorney just to file on just about everything we submitted, as he would dismiss practically anything that had a chance of being contested in Court. (Read the story about Small Town – Big Crime. To get an idea of what was going on back then.)

In Douglas County, everything was filed unless there was a serious error in the case. Typically, Traffic Citations or Misdemeanor Criminal Citations were issued in lieu of full custody arrests. In most cases, individuals arrested for Driving under the Influence were released after processing, to a sober friend or relative. Subjects arrested on warrants were transferred to the agency holding the warrant, or booked into corrections as a fugitive. In the case of any criminal arrest for a misdemeanor or a felony where the subject was booked into corrections, an Affidavit of Probable Cause needed to be reviewed by a Judge the following morning. In the case of any felony charges, in addition to the Affidavit of Probable Cause, the Arresting Officer was required to present his report, in person, to the Prosecutor the morning of the next business day to review the case in preparation for Arrangement and the eventual Preliminary Hearing. All and all, if you were working C or A Shifts, (evenings or nights,) and you made a full custody arrest of an individual during your shift, it was likely that you would not get home until Noon the following day.

So, you write your tickets, make and you your arrests. Typically it would be about six weeks before you heard anything. If the issue was resolved, (such as the violator paid the fine by waiver, plead no contest, plead guilty, etc.) you would receive a Disposition report that would state how the matter was “disposed.” If the matter was contested, you would receive a subpoena to appear in Court for Trial in a specified court room, at a specified date and time.

I'll see you in Court!” That was the threat issued by the accused that was supposed to strike fear into the heart of every law enforcement officer… “Yes. You will…

As police officers we were paid by a monthly salary, but if we were summoned to appear in Court while we were off duty, and if you worked evenings or nights, that was given, we would be paid a prorated, straight time hourly rate for a minimum of four hours, and hourly for each hour beyond the fourth hour. So if I was summoned to appear, and I show up at the Courthouse, the Prosecutor informs me that the defendants plead guilty, and I turn around and walk out, I still got paid for four hours! “Yes. Thank You! You will see me in court!

The Traffic and Misdemeanor Session of the Douglas County Court was hearing cases generated from at least seven law enforcement agencies, which included not only Valley, but the Cities of Omaha, Ralston, Bennington, Elkhorn, and Waterloo; and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, the Nebraska State Patrol, and any number of other State Law Enforcement Agencies. They managed the court room like a finely tuned process!

Once Court was called into session, and the Judge was on the bench, the process began. Once things were rolling, you had the case that was just finished on the left side of the bench settling up with the clerks. Directly in front of the bench, was the case that was presently being heard in front of the Judge. On the right side of the bench, was the next case that was about to be heard. Every so often, an individual officer was allowed to cut in line to have a warrant affidavit to be reviewed and signed by the Judge, which typically took less than five or ten minutes.

The Rotunda was the very large, marble entry area of the Douglas County Courthouse. From the main floor, you could look up to the 6th floor ceiling, with balconies surrounding the 2nd through the 5th floor. It was alive and loud with all manner of activity and was where all of the plea bargaining and negations were going on between the various attorneys, which could be very entertaining to watch, if even from a distance.

On my very first day in the Douglas County Courthouse, I was standing aside in the rotunda, taking in all the activity around me when a very skinny, half shaven old man of about 65 years of age, wearing a girls cheerleading outfit walked right past me. Apparently, my jaw must have hit the floor pretty hard, as one of the Clerks came running up to me from the other side of the rotunda, grabbed me by the arm, and cheerfully said, “Oh! You must be new here! Let me help you!

Prosecutors:

I worked with all the Prosecutors from the Douglas County Attorney’s Office, but the majority of my cases were worked with the attorney assigned to the Traffic / Misdemeanor Desk. It seemed that the new attorney’s on staff were assigned to the Misdemeanor Desk where they cut their teeth. Soon, after fighting many battles in the trenches, they would be promoted up, or assigned elsewhere. Then another new kid would have to be broken in again.
I remember being introduced to one new kid, fresh out of law school. “Well officer, who are you here for?”

“Gerber.”

“Ok… Let’s see… State versus Gerber, DWI second offense… "Tell me Officer, have you testified in a DWI Trial before..?”

I looked down at the twelve years worth of hash marks running down my left coat sleeve, “Sure, I’ve testified for a few…”

It must have been the kids first time in court as a prosecutor. My partner and I had to coach him on what questions to ask, and when to object. I’m pretty sure, even at his young age that he was making fifteen to twenty thousand dollars more than I was. It made me wonder why I didn’t go to law school instead of becoming a cop!

This guy was the exception as we typically worked with very bright and more than competent attorneys that I worked with. One of my favorites was Darryl Lowe.


This is a recent news photo of Darryl Lowe, but this is pretty much
how I recall seeing him as he addressed the Court.

When Darryl was first appointed to the job, he made the effort to get to know his clients, the Law Enforcement Officers. When I met him, he was hanging out in the Sheriff’s Booking Office when we brought in a DWI Arrest to be processed. This drunk; a woman, was particularly nasty and obnoxious. Aside from the fact that she was uncooperative, she had a mouth on her that would embarrass a truck driver! Darryl was watching all of this and taking it in…

After she refused to submit to a breath test, I sat down at the desk to complete paper work. Darryl is seated in a chair, with his back against the wall, to the left of the desk, reading a newspaper. The subject is sitting across the desk from me, when she starts hitting the desk. “Hey Cop! Cop, Cop, Cop! I know what you want…”

“Yeah? What’s that..?” I ask.

“You want to rub your hands on my firm round ass…”

I look over toward Darryl. I can’t see his face, but I can see the newspaper shaking as he’s quietly laughing…”

“Then you want to stick your finger is my sticky, private, personal place!”

At that Darryl stands up from his chair, laughing hysterically as he wads the newspaper into a ball and spikes it onto the floor, while he walks down the hall, howling with laughter!

I reply to the subject, “Lady… I wouldn’t touch you with a ten foot pole if you were the last woman on earth!”

Guess who the Prosecuting Attorney was when the matter went to trial? She plead guilty...

I considered Daryl to be a good friend and advisor. While I’m not in contact with him as much as in the old days, I’m proud to have worked with him, and have always listed to his advice. I also included Darryl as an employment reference for me, early in my Information Technology Career, and I credit him as part of the reason I landed the job at Sprint. Darryl went on to be a Felony Prosecutor, and I had the opportunity to work with him in that capacity on a number of occasions. Today, His Honor, Daryl R. Lowe is seated as a Judge for the Douglas County Court.


His Honor, Judge Darryl R. Lowe,
Douglas County Court

I worked with many other great attorneys at the County Attorney’s Office. Mike Haller was very good, and very helpful when I first started working in this venue. Trish Ryan was a very quick witted and fast thinking attorney. Mark Ashford went on to be a County Judge, and today is seated as a Judge on the District Court. Bridget (Brochtrup) Erickson was one of the best advocates we had in the County Attorney’s Office as she went to bat for us quite often. She went on to become the County Attorney for Platte County, Nebraska, and today works with the Disability Rights Commission for the State of Montana.

Defense Attorneys:

In most cases, these people are not the sleaze and slime many would make them out to be. As a police officer, I actually got to know some of these individuals away from the bench. I was pleased to also learn of the amount of respect many of these attorneys had for us as individuals. One attorney actually confided to me that when he observed my name at the bottom of the report, he advised his client to take a plea, adding that if “Schulze said it happened, it most likely happened that way, and Schulze will be ready to prove it!”

The people in the Public Defenders Office really get a bum rap! Everyone assumes they are a bunch of low paid, second rate lawyers suited only for making a plea bargain. This is certainly not the case! These were well trained, experienced attorneys who are very dedicated to their craft. When you consider what they have to work with as the majority of their clientele, i.e. obviously guilty street offenders, it can often render the appearance that all they do are plea bargains. Trust me, if an individual’s rights are at stake, the Public Defender will get to the bottom of it!

I recall one misdemeanor assault case where the defendant was represented by one of the most prominent criminal trial attorneys in the state. This guy was known nationally, and had defended and obtained acquittals for defendants charged with murder.

My case involved a local young woman who was about seven months pregnant. While visiting her physician, it was learned that she had contracted a venereal disease, and was advised to inform any sexual partners she had. She found her ex-boyfriend on a Friday evening at a local bar, and went in to inform him of the good news, and suggest he seek medical attention. As she went to leave, the boyfriend called her a derogatory name, and she turned and slapped the boyfriend. As she turned to leave, the boyfriend got off his barstool, grabbed the young lady, and proceeded to beat her up. The young lady, hereafter referred to as the victim, is taken to the hospital, and with consideration to her pregnancy, kept he in the hospital over the weekend for observation.

The following Monday, the victim, accompanied by her friend who was a witness appears at my office, seeking to file an assault report. Written Witness Statements are obtained, and included with my report containing the basic summary of information provided, including suspect information. This is sent off to the County Attorney’s Office, who felt that a crime had indeed been committed, and filed the charge of 3rd Degree Assault against the boyfriend. The boyfriend willingly turned himself in, and about a month later, the matter was scheduled for trial.

Representing the State was Trish Ryan of the Douglas County Attorney’s Office. Appearing as witnesses for the State was the victim and her friend. While I was not a witness to anything, I was subpoenaed because I submitted the report. The defendant was represented by the best criminal attorney in the State of Nebraska. As defense witnesses, he subpoenaed every patron that was in the bar on the night of the incident.

The State called the victim to testify, and she provided her perspective on the incident. The State called the victim’s friend who basically testified to the same thing as the victim. The State rests, and turns the matter over to the defense.

I don’t know what sort of arrangement was made between the defendant and his attorney, but in my opinion the defense was not prepared at all. Maybe he felt that since this was a lowly misdemeanor case that the “Super Attorney” could simply breeze through, or perhaps he was taking on the case pro bono, and did not have the budget to properly prepare for trial. In any event, the defense was a disaster!

As I mentioned earlier, the defense had subpoenaed about ten people, patrons from the bar, as defense witnesses. The defense called the first witness, who more or less testified to the same as what the victim and her friend told the court. Then, he called the second witness who also said the same thing! Clearly, this was not looking good for the defense, so Super Lawyer, stops calling witnesses, and chooses to go straight to his closing argument:

“Your Honor... Until Woman’s Liberation came along, bars, taverns, and drinking establishments were the last bastions of male dominance. When this woman, comes into a Man’s Domain, and hauls off and hits my client! If this is how she is going to act in a Man’s Domain, then this is the type of retaliation she should come to expect!

The Judge, with a slight smile on his face turns to the Prosecutor, who happened to be a woman, and asks, “Is there any rebuttal from the State?”

Trish simply replies, “Well, You Honor, I guess there’s just some places a man isn’t safe anymore!

The entire Courtroom, Judge, gallery, clerks and attorneys all busted out in laughter! The Judge agreed, and pronounced the defendant guilty.

Here Comes the Judge:

Judges in Nebraska are appointed and maintained on what was known as the Missouri Plan. If there was a vacancy on the court, a State Board would recommend worthy and qualified candidates to the Governor, who would appoint the Judge to the bench. The Judge would be retained on the bench by election of the people. In Nebraska, this was the plan for all Judges in the State. I found it interesting that The Missouri Plan is only used for Circuit / District Court and higher. Municipal judges serve at the “Pleasure of the Mayor” in Missouri.

Most counties in Nebraska had one County Judge, and perhaps an Associate County Judge. There would be one Judge of the District Court who may be shared with other counties. Douglas County, Nebraska was the most populace county in the state. The 4th Judicial District Court for Douglas County has sixteen judges seated on the bench. The Douglas County Court has twelve judges on the bench. For trials in County Court for Misdemeanors or Traffic Violations, you never knew who was going to be seated on the bench until the bailiff called, “All Rise” and the Judge walked in. I always felt this helped keep everyone on a level playing field!

I respected all the Judges I appeared before. All of them were fair, honest, and all appeared to have a wealth of experience behind them. Of course, each of them had their own personalities and traits.

One of my favorites was Judge Walter Cropper. Judge Cropper sat on the bench from 1967 through 1994. He passed away in 2007. He had a very strong, commanding, baritone voice that could be heard by everyone in the Courtroom; and Judge Cropper always had pleanty to say!. If you had ever been in Judge Cropper's Court, you never forgot it!


His Honor, the late Judge Walter Cropper
Douglas County Court
1918 - 2007

If defendants plead guilty before Judge Cropper's Court, the Prosecutor would hand the Officer’s Report to the Judge to review as factual basis for the arrest and charges filed. Unlike the other judges, Judge Cropper would read the report out loud, so it would become part of the Court Transcript. In the language of police reports, the person arrested is always referred to as “The Subject.” Whenever he came to “the Subject” in the report, he’d pause, point at the defendant, and say, “That’s you…” then continue reading.

So you’d have this cocky, arrogant kid as a defendant, smugly standing before Judge Cropper's Bench while the Judge is reading the report out loud. About every third sentence, Judge Cropper would pause, point at the kid and announce, “That’s you…” In an average report, the Judge would point at the defendant, and announce, “That’s you…” about thirty to forty times! Each time, the defendant’s stature got smaller and smaller until all that was left was a sniveling wimp cowering before the bench!

During one case involving a very violent, 18 year old individual who assaulted our officer while resisting arrest, Judge Cropper read the report in his typical fashion. He also looked at the defendant’s prior arrest record containing numerous assaults and other arrests for confrontations with the police. He asked the defendant if his parents were present in the Courtroom. The kid indicated they were there, so Judge Cropper invited them to come before the bench. He looked down to the parents and asks, “What seems to be going on here with your child?”

The mother replies, “Well… Troy has a problem...”

Judge Cropper loudly cut the mother off, “You’re darn right he has a problem! He has no respect for authority, and at this point it’s doubtful that he ever will!” The Judge went on to say that perhaps it’s time the defendant took some time to think about it, and sentenced him to 90 Days in the County Jail, to be followed by One Year of Supervised Probation. Judge Cropper then predicted to the parents that unless this young man learned his lesson, and changed his ways he would likely be dead before reaching the age of majority.

Incidentally, while this kid did complete his time in jail, he never completed his period of probation. About a year after this court date, Troy and one of his buddies had been committing a number of burglaries up in Dodge County. He and his accomplice got in an argument about how to share the loot, and his friend shot Troy dead with a single shot, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Judge Cropper!

A softer side of Judge Cropper might be seen from time to time. He once observed, “Your last name has a rather unique spelling… Are you related to Donald Schulze from Benson?”

“Yes, Your Honor, Donald Schulze would have been my uncle…”

“Yes… He passed away during the war… I’m very sorry about that… Who’s your Dad?”

“That would be T. J. “Dutch” Schulze.”

“Oh sure! Tommy Schulze! Say hello to your Dad and to the rest of your family from me, would you?”

I also recall, that any time I presented papers or affidavits for his review and approval, after all the formalities, he would always remind me to “Be careful, and stay safe!

To read an article which provides a summary on the life and career of His Honor, Judge, Walter Cropper, Click Here.

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