LINCOLN — State Sen. Ernie Chambers says he plans to file a grievance seeking the disbarment of a former Nebraska Supreme Court judge who recently resigned in the face of a judicial ethics complaint.
The Omaha senator announced Monday, in a letter submitted to the chief justice of the State Supreme Court, that he will pursue action against Max Kelch. In the letter, Chambers suggested Kelch could make the matter go away by agreeing to surrender his license to practice law in Nebraska.
“One who is unfit to retain a seat on the Nebraska Supreme Court is equally unfit to retain a license to practice before the very Supreme Court whose reputation he has sullied and besmirched,” Chambers said in his letter.
Reached by phone Monday, Kelch declined to respond to the senator’s forthcoming grievance or say what he plans to do in the wake of his Feb. 15 resignation from the bench. He also declined an invitation to address allegations and rumors that have swirled around his decision to quit.
“I’m just going to deal with what’s in front of me,” said Kelch, who resigned after less than two years on the high court.
Kelch, 60, submitted a two-sentence resignation letter Jan. 23 to Gov. Pete Ricketts, saying he was stepping down from the high court because it was in the best interest of his family. But the judge had previously told the governor that a complaint had been filed against him.
The World-Herald has since learned that Kelch was known for making sexual comments to women, including court staffers. An official told the newspaper that the allegations involving Kelch are in line with the national #MeToo movement of blowing the whistle on sexual harassment and misconduct.
In the letter to Chief Justice Michael Heavican, the senator said his guiding premise is that the public deserves substantive answers about Kelch’s conduct while he was being paid an annual salary of $172,000 as a judge. Although the chief justice could disclose the information, Chambers said he was not hopeful that Heavican would do so.
Chambers noted that his complaints about the sexual misconduct of former Seward County District Judge Bryce Bartu led to the judge’s retirement and voluntarily surrender of his license to practice law.
Heavican was in meetings Monday and unavailable to respond to a request for comment. The chief justice has previously declined to discuss the Kelch matter.
Chambers’ letter did not list any new or specific allegations against Kelch, but included copies of news stories about the judge’s sudden resignation. Chambers said he is prepared to file a lengthy grievance against Kelch with the Supreme Court’s Counsel for Discipline if necessary.
The Counsel for Discipline can dismiss grievances it concludes are without merit or can recommend actions against attorneys ranging from reprimands to disbarment. The final order to discipline a lawyer is made by the Supreme Court.