LINCOLN — Former Nebraska Attorney General Paul Douglas, who resigned from office in the fallout of the Commonwealth Savings Co. collapse, died Monday. He was 85.
A former Lancaster County attorney who assisted with the prosecution of mass killer Charles Starkweather, Douglas served as attorney general from 1975 to 1984.
But his public career ended in a stunning series of events brought about by his personal business relationship with Commonwealth Vice President Marvin Copple, who served time in prison for the Lincoln institution's failure.
Thousands of Commonwealth depositors lost heavily when funds meant to insure their accounts proved insufficient to cover the deposits.
In 1984, the Nebraska Legislature impeached Douglas, an action later reversed by the State Supreme Court.
Douglas was then convicted of felony perjury, which prompted the suspension of his law license. He resigned after the suspension.
In a statement on Dec. 26, 1984, Douglas said he always maintained that elected officials could not stay in office if convicted of a felony.
“I took that stand against several others. I see no reason why it should not apply to me,” he said.
After his resignation, Douglas successfully appealed the perjury conviction and started his own single-lawyer office in Lincoln.
He practiced law until his death, most recently providing counsel to some of the Gage County law enforcement authorities sued in the Beatrice Six wrongful conviction case.
Although Douglas could not fully escape the Commonwealth scandal, he was well-liked and respected in the legal community, said retired Lancaster County Judge Janice Gradwohl, a longtime friend.
Douglas made Gradwohl the first female prosecutor in Lancaster County, she said. He always stressed to his deputies that they bring a prosecution only when they had sufficient evidence to prove wrongdoing.
He also inspired staff members to go beyond the minimum requirements of their jobs, she said. As a result, attorneys often came to work on most government holidays.
“Paul ran a very good office,” Gradwohl said. “Some of the good things he did were not recognized.”
Douglas was a native of Sioux Falls, S.D., who served with the U.S. Marines in World War II and the Korean War. He earned his law degree from the University of Nebraska College of Law.
Douglas was a former director of the National District Attorneys Association and served on two national task forces for prosecuting attorneys.
He was an active member of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in Lincoln, where his funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Friday. Roper & Sons funeral home is in charge of arrangements.
Douglas is survived by his wife, Ardis.
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