Impeachment Trial Concludes

The fate of University of Nebraska Regent David Hergert now rests with the state Supreme Court.

Following about two hours of testimony and closing arguments Monday, the court took the case under advisement. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Hendry said the court will issue a written opinion sometime after May 26 -- the last day attorneys have to file written responses.

In closing arguments, the Legislature's attorney David Domina said Hergert repeatedly lied and broke campaign finance laws in order to deprive his challenger in the 2004 election from accessing public money.

"C. David Hergert snubbed his nose at our law," Domina said.

The absence of that money resulted in Hergert cheating in order to win election and warrants his removal from office, Domina said.

One of Hergert's attorneys, Sean Brennan, said in his closing arguments that the Legislature had used "special effects" in order to "make innocent conduct appear sinister." Brennan said Hergert did not intentionally break the law and that his violations were technical in nature and were not keys to his victory.

The Legislature's case "is based on nothing more than improper and misleading innuendo and inference," Brennan said. "All they have done is present to you confusing and misleading information."

Brennan described the trial as "peculiar," saying there was no evidence that Hergert committed a crime while in office. He said the Legislature's case had no legal standing and that the charges were not proven.

The trial marks the end of a process that started in 2005 when the initial complaints were filed against Hergert related to activity during his successful 2004 campaign for regent. After he entered into an agreement with the state Accountability and Disclosure Commission in April 2005 admitting campaign law violations, the Legislature passed a resolution calling on him to resign.

Hergert refused to step down, which led to the Legislature in April passing 10 articles of impeachment. That action made the trial necessary, which was the first in Nebraska since 1984.

In addition to being on trial for breaking campaign finance laws, Hergert is also charged with violating his oath of office. Among other things, Hergert is accused of waiting until after the election to file a document outlining his spending that would have given his opponent Don Blank $15,000 in matching state funds in the final days of the campaign.

Even if Blank had gotten the money, Brennan said there was no evidence it would have made any difference in the election's outcome.

Domina said Hergert violated his oath of office by disregarding what he knew were law violations he had made during the campaign.

Hergert's defense that he wasn't familiar with the law and that his violations were merely technical "doesn't cut the mustard," Domina said. Hergert was told of the law and instructed of the necessary forms that had to be filed, Domina said.

"His offenses escalated. They didn't diminish," Domina said. "They didn't change in character. They just grew."

Prior to closing arguments, the court heard from Blank and State Patrol investigator Capt. Mark Funkhouser.

Blank was questioned about how he chose to spend his money during the campaign, particularly how much cash he had on hand in the weeks leading up to the election to counter messages being made by Hergert.

Blank said Monday he worked hard at the end of the campaign to get his message out, but it was difficult because he did not have much money on hand and he could not access the public funds.

"We for the most part were unsuccessful" in getting the message out, Blank said.

Blank, who won the primary by 18 percentage points, lost the general election by 11 percentage points.

Five of seven Supreme Court judges would have to find Hergert guilty to remove Hergert, an agri-businessman from Mitchell, from office. Hergert has been suspended from his duties since the Legislature voted 25-22 on April 12 to impeach him.