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An appellate judge, a trial court judge and a private practice lawyer are still in contention to fill a retiring Nebraska Supreme Court justice's spot on the bench.

But one thing was sure after an hour-long public hearing Wednesday: The new justice will be a woman. 

The judicial nominating commission chose to forward Court of Appeals Judge Riko E. Bishop, Lancaster County District Judge Stephanie F. Stacy and attorney Amie C. Martinez, all of Lincoln, on to Gov. Pete Ricketts, who will meet with each before appointing one to replace Justice Kenneth C. Stephan.

Stephan, who has served on the Supreme Court for 18 years representing the First Judicial District of Lancaster and Seward counties, retired Wednesday.

The fact that three of the four original candidates are women was not lost on attorney Vince Powers, an alternate on the commission, who mentioned that Bishop had sat on the state's first all-women Court of Appeals panel in Kearney in November.

"I think today is another great day in Nebraska," he said.

Bishop, who was appointed in 2013, has a background in school and family law, medical malpractice and worker's compensation issues.

She described herself as a consensus builder.

Of the current Supreme Court justices, Bishop said: "I like them, I respect them, and I would value every minute of learning from and with them."

Stacy, who was appointed a district court judge in 2011 and has a background in civil law, said in an era where clever barbs and sound bites get all the attention, "I think we should expect more of our judges."

Because Lincoln is the seat of state government, she said, trial judges here are called upon to make decisions every day that affect people locally, statewide and occasionally nationwide.

Stacy said she sees appellate courts as the safety net, to ensure the justice system got it right.

Martinez, an attorney with Anderson Creager Wittstruck PC, has handled everything from speeding tickets to death penalty cases and civil litigation to paternity and divorce cases.

"I understand what it's like to be in the trenches," she said.

A question about whether Martinez was eligible for the position by law, because she has served on the nominating commission, was addressed in a closed-door questioning that followed the public hearing.

In the end, one of the three will join Justice Lindsey Miller-Lerman, currently the only woman on the Nebraska Supreme Court, along with five male justices.

Lincoln attorney Gary L. Young also had sought to fill the vacancy.

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

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Lori Pilger is a public safety reporter.

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