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7.25.14 Issue

by Annette van de Kamp-Wright, Editor, Jewish Press

There are plenty of misconceptions about the legal profession in our culture. We’ve all watched The Good Wife, and although real life rarely resembles a television drama, it can nonetheless be interesting to take a closer look at what happens in the real world and what the people we know do for a living. And so, we are debuting a new series, titled In the Courtroom, where we will feature community members from the legal profession. Although I have a long list of candidates, please let us know if you want to be featured in this column.

Ari Riekes

            How long have you been a lawyer?  I graduated from law school in 2003, and have been practicing ever since.

Where do you practice? I am a partner at the law firm Marks, Clare and Richards, LLC, in Omaha.

What do you think about Judge Judy? Well, I am working during the day, so I have not been exposed to the judicial brilliance of Judge Judy.  But in all seriousness, any forum that seeks to resolve peoples’ disputes peacefully is a good thing.

What is your area of expertise? The bulk of my practice is litigation oriented, and I focus substantially in the area of employment discrimination/wrongful termination. I also practice in the area of commercial litigation which typically concerns contractual disputes. In addition, I represent a number of landlords (and sometimes tenants) regarding issues related to leasing of property. Finally, I also handle a limited number of family law disputes.

What is your favorite restaurant? Big Fred’s.

What would you like to see changed in America today? From a political perspective, I would like to see government functioning and tackling the problems that face ordinary middle class America. More and more, it seems that the business of government today is an all-out effort to assure that the other side fails. I think both parties are to blame, but the strategy has been used to the greatest extent by the Republican leadership in Congress since Obama was first elected. Fixing that problem and limiting the power of special interests when it comes to dictating policy would be a good start to changing America for the better.

Who is your dream client? Any client that is open, honest, sincere and cooperative is appreciated, and I am lucky to have many that fall into that category.

How does your Judaism affect the way you practice law? Judaism is a religion based on law. Questioning, understanding and analyzing Judaic law is a part of Jewish tradition. To be an effective lawyer in the secular world requires much of the same.

Steve Riekes

            How long have you been a lawyer? Since 1965. After graduating Harvard Law School in that year, I was admitted to the Nebraska Bar, the Federal District Court for Nebraska, and the Eighth Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.

Where do you practice? Right here in Omaha.

Who do you practice with? I am a partner in Marks Clare & Richards, L.L.C. Our firm consists of nine partners and five associates. Besides myself, two other attorneys in our practice are Jewish, my son, Ari D. Riekes, and Lisa Lewis.

What is your area of expertise? I work in the general practice of law, which involves everything from contracts to wills. However, I specialize in appellate and motion practice, which includes research and analysis of difficult legal issues and brief writing. I have also been involved throughout my career with public housing law. I am a past president and a member of the board of directors of the Housing and Development Law Institute headquartered in Washington, DC.

What is your favorite part of the Omaha Jewish community? I have been involved with all aspects of the Omaha Jewish community. I have a personal philosophy that requires daily exercise of my body, my spirit, and my mind. So I exercise my body at the Jewish Community Center. I worship at Beth El Synagogue. I am engaged in Jewish education, both for myself and in matters dealing with the Jewish community. In regard to the latter aspect, I am currently involved with the Philip and Ethel Klutznick Chair of Jewish Civilization at Creighton University and the Natan and Hannah Schwalb Center at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. I am also a lifelong member of B’nai B’rith, which sponsors the Annual Bible Quiz and the Jewish Trivia Contest.

What would you like to see changed in America today? I believe that the greatest danger to democracy and to our capitalist economy is the extreme inequality of our society today. The extreme wealth of a few gives them unparalleled access to the institutions of government. Inevitably, it allows them to distort the system in their own favor. Oligopoly and monopoly are destructive of our economy and our democratic way of life, which is founded upon an essential middle class. I am also concerned about gun violence and climate change.

Who is your dream client? There is no way for me to tactfully answer this question.

How does your Judaism affect the way you practice law?  Judaism is not simply a religion, it is a way of life. In the book of Deuteronomy (Devarim), it is commanded: “Justice, justice you shall pursue.” I hope that I have been among those who contribute to the building of a just society.

Judge Lawrence Gendler

            What do you do?

I am a separate juvenile court judge in Sarpy County, Nebraska. I also am the statewide chair of the Nebraska Supreme Court initiative, “through the eyes of a child” (website is www.throughtheeyes.org), and I chair a statewide educational committee seeking to improve educational outcomes for court involved youth.

            What makes you get up in the morning?

Good question. I could say an alarm, but I am usually up before it goes off. I am no different than anyone else who has professional responsibilities. We get up and attend to our responsibilities, both professionally and personally.

Does overlap exist between professional life and religious life?

There is no overlap as we must be careful not to impose our religious beliefs or rely on religion in rendering decisions. But there are, on occasion, religious organizations that provide support for the youth and families we serve. And if they do not object, we will utilize these services.

How did you arrive at this point in your career?

Quite frankly, luck plays a huge role in becoming a judge.  There are a number of qualified candidates who never get the opportunity. I was fortunate enough to have worked on legislation over 22 years ago, worked with the governor on its passage, and then came before him several months later as a judicial candidate. And having worked in the Sarpy County Attorney’s office for 14 years at that time had also provided me with valuable experience. I have over the years worked with a variety of policy makers and elected officials, which has provided me with wonderful opportunities and experiences.

What is it that no one knows about the work you do?

I doubt there is anything mysterious about my job. It can sometimes be a very lonely position as we are called upon to render difficult decisions where clarity of law or facts are not present and the result will have long term effects on many. I suppose what we sometimes miss is that everyone, regardless of fault or circumstance, has a story. And those stories reflect the anguish and tragedy too many suffer, and in that context requires us to make every effort to carefully consider all that has been presented to us.

What is your opinion of the way judges are portrayed in popular culture?

It is hard for me to say as much of popular culture focuses on the federal courts and the US Supreme Court. To be certain, elections have consequences when it comes to judicial appointments. But much of the public may not appreciate that at the state level, regardless of which governor appointed a judge, these jurists attempt to render decisions in accordance with the law and not political party or personal opinion. In my role as project chair for the Nebraska Supreme Court initiative, I have met a number of recently appointed judges, as well as others who have served for 20 years or more. I have gotten to know them well and they do a tremendous job. I also think some of us may under-appreciate the level of cooperation and achievement that occurs in the rural parts of our state. From my perspective, how they approach their responsibilities eclipses our efforts in the metropolitan areas. This is probably not the vision popular culture has of “country” justice.

To be featured in this column, please contact us at avandekamp@jewishomaha.org. We look forward to hearing from you!