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Lancaster County Attorney Joe Kelly has been nominated by President Donald Trump to be U.S. attorney for Nebraska.

Kelly, 61, was elected as county attorney in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. Before his election seven years ago, he served for a decade as chief deputy county attorney and counts more than 30 years of experience as a prosecutor in the county attorney's office.

"I'm honored by the nomination," Kelly said by phone Friday, deferring any further comment to the U.S. Justice Department.

The Republican's nomination will be submitted to the U.S. Senate for confirmation, though it wasn't immediately clear when a hearing would be held.

Robert Stuart has served as acting U.S. attorney for Nebraska since Deborah Gilg, President Barack Obama's appointment, retired last March.

Kelly was recommended to the White House by Sens. Deb Fischer and Ben Sasse. 

"Joe Kelly is a highly respected prosecutor who will put the safety of Nebraska's families and communities first," Fischer said.

"It was my honor to recommend Joe to serve the people of our state in this capacity.

"His decades of experience, steady leadership and top-notch legal skills will make him an incredibly effective U.S. attorney for the District of Nebraska." 

Sasse, who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, “Joe Kelly is a proven public servant with the humility and honesty that Nebraskans demand and respect. I look forward to working with Joe as he moves through the Judiciary Committee toward confirmation.”

Gov. Pete Ricketts also praised the choice: “Joe has served Lancaster County faithfully for more than 20 years, working to protect public safety and enforce the law. He is a tenacious and talented attorney and public servant.” 

If Kelly is confirmed, the Lancaster County Board would select someone to fill his position until the next election, in November 2018, said Kerry Eagan, the county's chief administrative officer. The board must name a temporary replacement within 45 days of the vacancy, according to state law.

Kelly's counterpart, Lancaster County Public Defender Joe Nigro, praised the nomination, calling Kelly an excellent prosecutor, skilled attorney and good guy.

Nigro met Kelly during their undergraduate studies at the University of Nebraska, and they attended law school there together, he said.

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In court, Kelly was a well-prepared, detail-oriented adversary, Nigro said.

The two fostered a good working relationship in their time advising the Lancaster County Board of Commissioners on staff salaries for the two competing offices.

And Kelly has been supportive of problem-solving courts such as drug court and veterans court, which offer alternatives to incarceration, Nigro said.

Kelly will likely spend less time in the courtroom in his new role managing the U.S. Attorney's Office and carrying out Justice Department policy, Nigro said.

Often, U.S. Attorney nominees can be political appointments more than practitioners of the law, but Kelly is well-qualified, Nigro said.

"So I think Nebraska is fortunate in that way.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-2657 or

On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or

On Twitter @LJSDon.



Political reporter

Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.


Riley Johnson reports on breaking news and public safety issues in Lincoln and southeast Nebraska.

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