Newly-appointed Nebraska Supreme Court justice subpoenaed

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - A newly appointed Nebraska Supreme Court justice has been subpoenaed by an attorney seeking to have a felony case against his client dismissed, arguing that the judge’s delay in ruling on a motion in the case violated his client’s right to a speedy trial.

Defense attorney Matt Catlett said he subpoenaed former Lancaster County District Judge Stephanie Stacy to find out why it took her eight months to rule on a motion to suppress evidence in the drug possession case against 48-year-old Scott Johnson, the Lincoln Journal Star reported (http://bit.ly/1V8nQmQ ) on Tuesday.

However, court rules don’t allow judges to be called as witnesses in trials over which the judge presides. The Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, which represents judges, says it will seek to quash the subpoena, which requires Stacy to appear at a Nov. 6 hearing.

“The law is clear that Judge Stacy cannot be subpoenaed as a witness in the case,” Nebraska Attorney General spokeswoman Suzanne Gage said in an email to the newspaper.

Johnson was first charged in early 2012, after a traffic stop in which a Lancaster County sheriff’s deputy says he found four small bags of methamphetamine in Johnson’s pockets.

Catlett contends that Stacy’s delay violated a law that requires defendants be brought to trial within six months of charges being filed. The six-month period can be, and often is, extended by defendants’ motions or requests for delays, but Catlett said Stacy’s eight-month delay was unreasonable.

Stacy concluded in April that Johnson’s constitutional speedy-trial rights had not been violated, noting in part that he was not harmed by the delay because he wasn’t sitting in jail waiting for the decision.

But Catlett is focused on what Johnson’s previous attorney said transpired in an off-the-record conference with the judge. The previous attorney says Stacy acknowledged that the delay came about because she had simply forgotten about the motion, Catlett said.

Stacy declined to comment through her office, noting that the judicial ethical code prevents her from commenting on pending legal cases.

Stacy was appointed to the Nebraska Supreme Court last month by Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts. She began her new appointment Thursday.

The subpoena was served Wednesday.

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