His fiancée paid his bond on a Monday, but the Crete man didn't get out of jail until two days later.

First, Kenneth Buckingham needed to go before a judge because of a local Lancaster County District Court rule.

To be clear, Nebraska's bond statutes say a judge may require the sheriff or jailer to bring an accused person before him at the courthouse before bonding out.

It's just that judges in other counties don't, defense attorneys say.

Tim Noerrlinger, the defense attorney appointed to represent Buckingham, said he understands that the extra step makes it easier to convict defendants who fail to appear.

But, he said, "No one else does it that way. ... From Norfolk on down and Grand Island on out. It's atypical."

In other counties, defendants sign an appearance bond at the jail swearing to return for court, like they do here in county court.

On its website, the Lancaster County Department of Corrections explains if an inmate is in custody for a district court case, he or she must "contact an attorney to schedule the necessary hearing before a District Court Judge."

It's not uncommon for people to spend an extra day or two — sometimes up to three days — in jail after their bail money is on their books, waiting to get in front of a judge, Noerrlinger and other defense attorneys say.

Taxpayers end up footing the bill, and not just the $100 per day to house them.

* There's also the cost of transporting an inmate from jail to court and back. The jail had 84 such cases last year, director Brad Johnson said.

* And there's the time attorneys spend contacting a bailiff to get on the judge's calendar and attend a hearing. In the case of private, court-appointed attorneys, that's a fee that gets billed to the county.

* It even has led to delays in county court, where defense attorneys have been known to continue hearings in felony cases to give their clients more time to post bond — and avoid the extra step required in District Court.

"They just paid me to sit there 20 minutes," Noerrlinger said after a Wednesday hearing.

In the four-minute hearing, which started late, he told the judge that Buckingham's fiancée posted money for his bond on Monday and that Buckingham would be living with her in Crete.

Then, District Judge Kevin McManaman had Buckingham stand, raise his right hand and swear he would appear April 16, his next court date, and ordered him to be there. If he doesn't, the judge told him, that's another felony.

"Based upon all that, we'll see you back here," McManaman said before the jailer took Buckingham, in blue jail clothes, back to the jail to be processed out.

Retired Lancaster County District Judge Jeffre Cheuvront said he thinks that brief exchange is the reason they've been doing it here since 1973.

"I think there was a feeling that if you were brought into court and you were in front of a judge and you swore to the bond, it may have more of an effect on the person than if you just did it in the jail," he said.

But it's hard to say if it does, Cheuvront said.

When asked if any of the eight current district court judges would clarify why the practice is done or if they have considered changing it, Lancaster County District Court Administrator Jared Gavin said: "The Court refers the questioner to the following statutes: Neb. Rev. Stat. 29-901 et seq., specifically 29-901.02, 29-901.04 & 29-901.06."

Those laws lay out that a judge authorizing the release of a defendant "shall" inform them of penalties for violating bond conditions and "shall" advise them that a warrant can be issued immediately if they do violate them.

Lancaster County Public Defender Joe Nigro said he thinks the judges think they're just following the law.

"But the judges in the rest of the state think they're following the law, too," he said.

Nigro said the judges usually try hard to get people in quickly for bond-swear hearings, but it can be a tricky thing, given their busy schedules, and it's all more time-consuming.

"From our perspective, we would prefer if people could post bond at the jail," he said. "The whole process is cumbersome."

But it's not an issue that is likely to be appealed, because for defendants who can't post bond it's irrelevant, and for those who do, they get in front of a judge and get out.

No one is going to stay in jail to challenge it, Nigro said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSpilger.



Lori Pilger is a public safety reporter.

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