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Nebraska Democrats assigned to Chicago-area hotel — for Milwaukee national convention

WASHINGTON — Nebraska delegates to next summer’s Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee can expect quite the daily commute.

They’re staying in a suburban Chicago hotel.

The party recently released the state-by-state hotel assignments for the July 13-16 gathering where Democrats will nominate their challenger to President Donald Trump.

With only so many hotel rooms to go around in Milwaukee itself — and a number of those presumably reserved for major campaign donors — officials opted to house many of the state delegations across the border in Illinois.

Attending a national convention is a unique experience, of course, regardless of where delegates lay their heads at night.

“We’re going to make the best of it,” Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb told The World-Herald. “If it’s your first convention, you’re just thrilled to physically be there.”

Iowa Democrats landed much more convenient lodging — the Hilton Garden Inn at Milwaukee’s Mitchell International Airport, about a 20-minute drive from the downtown convention site.

The Nebraska delegation will be at the Crowne Plaza in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont.

That’s about 80 miles from downtown Milwaukee, or a drive of about an hour and a half, depending on Chicagoland traffic.

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The Nebraskans will have plenty of company making the daily trek — the cluster of Rosemont hotels will also serve the delegations from Texas, Florida, California and other states.

Nebraska Democrats will select the delegates they send to Milwaukee at their state convention June 5 through 7 in Omaha.

Kleeb said some Nebraskans hoping to attend the national convention were excited about recent news of a new direct flight from Omaha to Milwaukee — until they found out that their hotel is actually just next door to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

Party officials have pledged to take steps to mitigate the pain for those staying in far-flung hotels, Kleeb said.

That includes making sure that buses that ferry delegates back and forth to the convention site have police escorts and clearance to deposit the delegates right in front of the security gates.

They are also working to get top-level surrogates at the traditional delegation breakfast meetings.

Those sessions could be pushed back to become lunch meetings. That would allow delegates a little more sleep after returning to their hotel late at night.

And there are plans to have a home-away-from-home space inside the security perimeter for those stuck in distant hotels.

That area would include facilities for delegates to freshen up and space for them to hold meetings.

“They’re trying to make some accommodations,” Kleeb said. “Sure, we wish we were in the heart of it.”

Hotel assignments are always a tricky business at the every-four-years party conventions. The choicest spots tend to go to larger swing states or to the home state of the nominee.

It’s worth noting a few of the state delegations to land plum hotels in downtown Milwaukee: former Vice President Joe Biden’s home state of Delaware, Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s Massachusetts and Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Vermont.

At the last convention in Philadelphia, Nebraska Democrats actually ended up in a nice — and pricey — hotel in the heart of the city.

One consolation of staying so far from the action in 2020 — the nightly room rate will be a lot lower.

Check out nearly 100 stunning photos of Nebraska

Comey rapped for handling of memos, won't be prosecuted

Responding to Thursday's report, former FBI Director James Comey said a "sorry we lied about you" would be nice.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former FBI Director James Comey violated FBI policies in his handling of memos documenting private conversations with President Donald Trump, the Justice Department's inspector general said Thursday.

The watchdog office said Comey broke bureau rules by giving one memo containing unclassified information to a friend with instructions to share the contents with a reporter. Comey also failed to notify the FBI after Trump dismissed him in May 2017 that he had kept some of the memos in a safe at home, the report says.

"By not safeguarding sensitive information obtained during the course of his FBI employment, and by using it to create public pressure for official action, Comey set a dangerous example for the over 35,000 current FBI employees — and the many thousands more former FBI employees — who similarly have access to or knowledge of nonpublic information," the report says.

The report is the second in as many years to criticize Comey's actions as FBI director. The inspector general issued a separate rebuke last year for decisions made during the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server.

Trump embraced the findings. Comey "should be ashamed of himself," he said.

"Perhaps never in the history of our Country has someone been more thoroughly disgraced and excoriated than James Comey in the just released Inspector General's Report," Trump tweeted.

The report denied Trump and his supporters, who have repeatedly accused Comey of leaking classified information, total vindication. It found that none of the information that Comey or his attorneys shared with anyone in the media was classified, and the Justice Department has declined to prosecute Comey.

At issue in the report are seven memos Comey wrote between January 2017 and April 2017 about conversations with Trump that he found unnerving or unusual.

These include a Trump Tower briefing at which Comey advised the president-elect that there was salacious and unverified information about his ties to Moscow circulating in Washington; a dinner at which Comey says Trump asked him for loyalty; and an Oval Office meeting weeks later at which Comey says the president asked him to drop an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

One week after he was fired, Comey provided a copy of the memo about Flynn to Dan Richman, his personal lawyer and a close friend, and instructed him to share the contents with a specific reporter at the New York Times.

Comey has said he wanted to make details of that conversation public to prompt the appointment of a special counsel to lead the FBI's investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. Former FBI Director Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel one day after the story broke.

The Inspector General's Office found Comey's rationale lacking.

Richman declined to comment Thursday. But Comey noted on Twitter that the inspector general found no evidence that he or his lawyers ever shared classified information with reporters.

"I don't need a public apology from those who defamed me, but a quick message with a 'sorry we lied about you' would be nice," he wrote.

He also added: "And to all those who've spent two years talking about me 'going to jail' or being a 'liar and a leaker' - ask yourselves why you still trust people who gave you bad info for so long, including the president."

The report concludes one of several investigations that Inspector General Michael Horowitz has conducted into the actions of senior FBI officials in the last three years. The office released a report last year examining the Clinton email investigation and is now wrapping up a separate probe of the Russia investigation.

Also last year, the office concluded that while under oath, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe misrepresented his involvement in a news media disclosure and referred him for possible prosecution. That matter remains open.

Nebraska Medicine creating mental health crisis center on Omaha campus, not in Sarpy County

Nebraska Medicine now plans to establish a psychiatric emergency center on its Omaha campus, rather than in Sarpy County.

The health system’s board of directors approved the project in concept Monday, with the goal of opening next spring or summer, said Dr. Howard Liu, chairman of psychiatry at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

In early June, the health system confirmed that it was in “very preliminary” discussions with Sarpy County officials about adding such a facility to its Bellevue campus. Officials also said at the time that they were considering a similar facility at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

But Liu said this week that discussions with the Sarpy group ended a couple of months ago. A planning group including leaders in psychiatry and emergency medicine determined that the health system, given limited resources, should focus first on Douglas County with its greater volume of patients. They also received feedback from and had discussions with other behavioral health partners in the community.

“It wasn’t just an impulsive decision,” Liu said. “We looked at the data to say, ‘Where is the volume?’ ”

Not so fast, Sarpy County leaders say.

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Multiple county officials said they’ve known all along that Nebraska Medicine was considering a facility at its midtown Omaha campus.

But the county is still pursuing a partnership with the health system, according to Megan Stubenhofer-Barrett, the county’s spokeswoman.

Nebraska Medicine said that it is still involved in such discussions but that its focus is on the physical care site on the Omaha campus.

Even so, Liu’s statements to The World-Herald seemed to take the county by surprise.

Don Kelly, chairman of the Sarpy County Board, said the health system had gone quiet in recent months.

“The frustrating part for me is we’re the ones that came to the table with the resources and desire to do it,” Kelly said. “The University of Nebraska Medical Center is not an Omaha resource; it’s a Nebraska resource.”

Another County Board member, Jim Warren, said the county is open to other partners, even as it works to secure a deal with Nebraska Medicine.

“The problem is, it’s not something we can step off on our own and create,” he said, noting that the county will need to partner with a medical group to create a crisis center.

Sarpy County has earmarked $1.25 million in its 2020 budget for a mental health crisis center.

“It’s a significant amount of money that we’re willing to commit to partner with other (organizations) to really find a solution to improve mental health care,” Stubenhofer-Barrett said. “We’d love to have Nebraska Medicine at the table with us.”

Frustrations aside, Kelly said he understands Nebraska Medicine’s focus on Douglas County, which has a larger population and thus more people who need mental health care.

Sarpy has been pursuing a short-term crisis center to address a shortage of mental health services in the area.

The County Jail, which is often overpopulated, has become a de facto cell for people in crisis, though it isn’t equipped to treat such people, officials have said. The crisis center would keep people out of jail who don’t belong there and connect them with long-term treatment options.

Liu said Nebraska Medicine already provides telehealth services in Sarpy County. In the future, the health system would like to explore the creation of more ambulatory services there. Health system officials plan to learn from the Omaha center, hoping that it could serve as a possible prototype for future ones.

But they would need new resources before they could consider partnering on a second crisis center, he said, not just for construction, but also for operations. The state continues to face a shortage of behavioral health providers, said Liu, who spent the last half-dozen years working to bolster that workforce. But building it takes time.

Proposed plans for a psychiatric emergency center were also in the back of health system officials’ minds when they decided to close the 10-bed adult crisis unit at the Nebraska Medical Center on Aug. 14.

Liu said the need for psychiatric emergency services has been recognized within the community for years. He credited Region 6 Behavioral Healthcare with carrying the torch on the issue and Sarpy County for raising awareness.

Health system officials have looked at a number of models and spoken with mental health and ER leaders across the country about such services over the past year and a half.

Liu compared a psychiatric emergency center to a well-run train station intended to provide a short but efficient stay so patients can quickly get the services they need from experts trained to provide them. That’s why many such centers in the nation are attached to emergency rooms rather than operating as freestanding units.

The aim is that two-thirds of patients would receive immediate therapy and stabilization and go on to the appropriate programs, if necessary, rather than being admitted for inpatient care. The one-third who require inpatient admittance would go on to an inpatient psychiatric facility.

Liu said the health system has reached out to those providers, “and they’re excited about this as well.”

“We think we’ve got a good model how it could look here,” Liu said.

Sue Nuss, Nebraska Medicine’s chief nursing officer, said the health system has identified vacant space that would be renovated for the center on the 42nd and Dewey Streets campus.

But Liu said details about the size, cost and funding for a center are still evolving. The health system will need partners to make sure it remains a viable model.

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Grace: Retiring judge, 'protector to children,' presides over one last adoption

The day before his retirement, Douglas County Juvenile Court Judge Doug Johnson got to witness something beautiful, something happy and something deeply affirming about his 26 years on the bench. He got to preside over an adoption.

“The little ones are so lucky to have consistent love and care,” the 65-year-old told Anthony and Jeanna Thomas, who had come to Courtroom 1 to make official what had been a de facto arrangement.

The couple had been caring for great-niece Realynn, 8½, and her little brother Maxxden, 4, almost all of the children’s young lives. The children’s mother died two years ago, and it was time to step into the formal parent roles.

Maxxden was adopted in May. Realynn’s adoption would make this arrangement permanent. It would turn a great-aunt and great-uncle into Mom and Dad. And it would mean an end to court hearings, something the judge jokingly noted: “You don’t have to look at my bald head anymore.”

Then getting right to it, he asked the room for a big round of applause.

With that, the audience of attorneys, special advocates and a caseworker erupted with joy. Johnson came around the bench and presented gifts to the children — a stuffed unicorn that Realynn immediately seized and hugged and another stuffed animal for her brother. He posed for pictures with them and brushed off Jeanna Thomas’ gushing thanks, saying his role was a small one. They had done the real work.

Johnson’s role in an often invisible world of child welfare and family life has put him in the front row of many of life’s miseries. Abused and neglected children. Parents who can’t seem to get it together. Family failure. System failure.

He, like the attorneys, social workers and others committed to children in the court system, have tried to intervene and make a difference. And there are success stories to show that whatever brings a child to the Douglas County Courthouse’s sixth-floor juvenile court doesn’t have to become a life sentence.

Still, the grind of holding that front-row seat has required a soft heart and steel spine, a deep commitment to mercy and justice and a detachment from the pain of people’s suffering in order to stay clearheaded and focused. For years, Judge Johnson’s helper in this regard had four legs. Finnegan, a poodle mix from the Nebraska Humane Society, was Johnson’s right-hand mutt.

Finnegan accompanied the judge to court. His fluffy presence calmed people on both sides of the bench. He was a good boy.

Finnegan died suddenly last month of a tumor in his heart while Johnson was out of town, attending the annual conference of a group he’s belonged to for years: the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. His death shattered the judge, who had planned to retire anyway.

“Broke my heart,” he said.

But Johnson has had enough experience with life’s zigzags to know that the bad is often followed by the good.

Take his own journey to the courthouse’s sixth floor. Johnson, an Omaha native and Rummel High (1972) and University of Nebraska at Omaha (1976) graduate, started off in the business world after college.

Zig. He hated it. Found the work in a computer firm boring and soul-crushing. Wondered existentially if this was all life held for him. Sobbed in the back of St. John’s Catholic Church on Creighton University’s campus after one Mass and wound up joining the Jesuit order of Catholic priests. Zag.

The order has a 12-year formation period, and Johnson stayed for six.

Those years put him on an American Indian reservation, in prison ministry, in a high school teaching, in a hospital, working with people with disabilities and helping hospice patients. He played and sang in guitar Masses. He formed tight friendships.

Zig. It wasn’t for him. Johnson, at age 30, went to law school. Broke, he lived in a mortuary that needed someone to answer the phones at night and offered free lodging.

Zag. He graduated, got married and first went into solo practice. Zig. That didn’t work, so he joined the firm of the late Michael McGill, who went on to become a district court judge and was an important mentor. Zag.

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Johnson then went to work for the Douglas County Attorney’s Office, prosecuting child abuse cases. In 1993, Nebraska Gov. Ben Nelson appointed him to the juvenile court.

Johnson said the juvenile court then was a mess. Two judges and a third, substitute judge. The pace, he said, was “frantic. Like a train station.” Practices could be sloppy, like attorneys getting judges to sign off on motions without alerting all parties.

Over time, the court became more professional, and Johnson, through his long work with the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, became a reformer. He started various efforts aimed at reducing the amount of time children lingered in foster care. One was instrumental in bringing the Court Appointed Special Advocate program here. It trains volunteers to push for the best interests of children.

Another was a family drug court, which aimed to lessen the time children spend in foster care by getting addicted parents clean and on their feet and reunited with their young children. He had a special focus on birth to age 5 because of the lifelong effects that trauma — including the trauma of being moved from caregiver to caregiver — can have.

His efforts and demeanor have earned him respect from those who appear in his court.

Attorney Tom Incontro, who represents children in juvenile court, said he has always appreciated the judge’s willingness to bring innovation and change to juvenile law. He said the judge’s use of evidence-based best practices will have “a lasting impact” on Nebraska juvenile courts. But more than that, Incontro said the judge’s “dignified manner” will be his legacy.

“He was more than a judge,” Incontro said. “He was a teacher to case professionals, a protector to children and a supportive guide for parents. The goal of juvenile court is to fix broken families. Judge Johnson spent every day in support of that endeavor.”

This spring, Johnson decided that he was ready to hang up his black robe. Both daughters are grown, and the younger one, Kate, is playing the lead character, Susanna, in “The Marriage of Figaro,” an opera at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, where she attends. His older daughter is Anne.

Johnson wants to travel with wife Mary, a therapist. He wants to dig into music.

He wants, as retirees usually do, to experience the fruits of life.

The Douglas County juvenile court system has been in the news a lot this year because of a debate about whether taxpayers should foot the bill for bigger, better digs, including a new juvenile detention center, with more services to help children.

The work that takes place there has been lost in the push-pull over who pays for what and how. Any parting words on all that, Judge?

He demurred. Too political. Too hot a potato.

But Johnson did offer this: The children who wind up in Douglas County’s juvenile court system are not someone else’s children, but all of our children. The point of the court system is to improve lives. That this isn’t just feel-good stuff. Children who do better contribute to society, which is good for everyone.

Seated before Judge Johnson on Wednesday, Maxxden and Realynn played with books and smiled broadly. They fidgeted during the quick hearing, and everyone hoped that the words being spoken somehow sunk in.

Their mother, Jeanna Thomas, said she wanted to adopt Realynn because “I love her dearly and she completes our life.” Their father, Anthony, said he couldn’t see it turning out any other way.

Before the brief ceremony ended, Jeanna Thomas said she had something else to say. Turning to Judge Johnson, she said: “You’re so special to us. Then she said the adoption date, Aug. 28, would help ease the pain of what had happened two years prior, when the children’s biological mother died.

“You know when everything aligns and God puts a stamp (on it)?”

The judge did know.

He reflected on that moment in the church pew, when he was searching for a meaningful path. His own life’s zigzag had put him where he had been meant to be. His last day was Thursday.

“I think,” he said in an interview, “that my prayers got answered.”

Photos: Our best shots of 2019 (so far)