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Nebraska Supreme Court Justice Max J. Kelch got a standing ovation in a packed Warner Legislative Chamber Friday after taking the oath of office and making his first remarks as the newest member of the state's highest bench.

"We have a very high standard in our judiciary, and I'm very proud to be part of that," the former District Judge for Sarpy, Cass and Otoe counties said shortly after swearing to support the constitutions of the United States and Nebraska to the best of his ability.

Kelch said he remembered his first trial as a prosecutor in Nebraska City. It was over a speeding ticket, and he lost, he said.

"I walked across the street thinking this is bad, this is really bad," he said.

But he said his boss and mentor, now retired District Judge Randall Rehmeier, who then was the Otoe County Attorney, simply asked Kelch what he learned from it, then they talked about being prepared.

Kelch said he over-prepared for everything after that.

"He just didn't give me a job," he said of Rehmeier. "He took the time to teach me how to practice law and how to make me a better lawyer."

Rehmeier, who led the ceremony, said he saw potential in Kelch when, shortly after graduating from the University of Nebraska College of Law, he responded to an ad Rehmeier had posted for a job opening.

"I instantly liked Max," he said.

Rehmeier said Kelch may have had some growing pains, but from the start he was naturally comfortable in the courtroom and gave the job his all.

He said even the intensity with which Kelch plays basketball "exemplifies his commitment and unwavering dedication to perform at the highest level he can attain."

District Judge Jeffrey Funke, who worked on the other side of criminal cases when Kelch was a prosecutor, said Kelch never sought a conviction to win, but only to seek justice.

And, as a judge, Kelch has shown strong legal acumen and has applied his research and writing skills to reach extraordinary reasoning, he said.

"He is intelligent and fair. He is a colleague and a friend," Funke said.

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Gov. Pete Ricketts presented Kelch with his certificate of appointment, effective Feb. 3.

And Kelch's wife, Lorri, helped him put on his robe, as their 22-year-old son, Connor, stood by.

"Yes, I worked hard," Kelch said. "But part of working hard is having the assistance of other people."

He said his mother died before he became a judge, but he likes to think that she was looking down and proud of what she saw.

Kelch takes the spot of Justice Michael McCormack, who retired Jan. 1.

This is Ricketts' second appointment to the Nebraska Supreme Court. He appointed Justice Stephanie Stacy last year.

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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