Longtime Scotts Bluff County Judge James Macken passed away this week at the age of 91.
Macken served as a county judge for the 12th Judicial District for three decades, and people who worked with him over the years says he was nothing but a class act.
Scotts Bluff County Sheriff Mark Overman shares the first time he met Judge Macken.
“I was a defendant in his court,” explains Overman. “I was a teenager and I was in a little traffic trouble and he sentenced me a fine and sentenced me to take defensive driving. ”
“What I can tell you then when I became a police officer I had a lot of interaction with him. And the thing that strikes me the most is he was a real gentleman. And he was that way to everyone- everyone that was in his court, whether you were a police officer, whether you were a defendant, a member of the public, a member of the bar, he was just a real gentlemen.”
“And what people say about him in my business- probably most everybody- a highly respected, a very honorable man, honorable judge.”
Overman says that Judge Macken made him better at his job.
“When I was in investigations, I wrote lots of search warrants and a lot of arrest warrants. You would take them to him and he has to review them- and they were not absolutely a rubber stamp. He looked at every single one, he read every word of every one, and sometimes you walked out of there without getting your warrant signed. ”
“But the feedback he gave you about how you wrote the warrant and how it was, he was trying to make us better and he did make us better. He was also kind of like an English teacher- woe to the officers that went in there with grammatical or spelling errors. He would probably sign your warrant if the information was good, but he would point out that you needed to improve that. So he was just a really good man and a really good judge.”
“Before I became the Sheriff, I was very active in investigations and WING. And WING served lots of warrants and another thing is we needed lots of warrants at night.”
“So the protocol is your supposed to go to the county court judges. Judge Macken lived in town, and Judge Camerer lived out of town- a significant distance out of town- so generally we would call Judge Macken first- and he was always polite.”
“It didn’t matter- we could call him any at any time of the day or night, and he would almost always say come on over.”
“And you know he had this beautiful wood table. And he would always hand you a magazine or something because he didn’t want anybody writing on just a single sheet of people because you might damage that table.”
“So when we had new investigators and training new investigators and officers we would brief them on the protocols of Judge Macken- at Judge Macken’s house- don’t write on the table. But he was always polite to the new guys.”
Overman concluded by saying that Judge James Macken was a really good judge and really good man.
“And we’ll miss him, but we’re glad we had him here.”
Another person who worked closely with Judge Macken is Steve Olsen, the current President of Simmons Olsen Law Firm in Scottsbluff.
He tells KNEB News that he certainly had a unique relationship with Macken over the years.
“I came out here in 1983 and he was a county judge, been a county judge for a long time,” says Olsen.
“And I just found him to be an excellent judge. He was fair, he was somebody that listened to you, he always gave you time to argue your points, argue your case… He was a good listener. His demeanor was what a judge ought to be – and that is just a professional demeanor.”
Olsen added not only was Macken an excellent judge, but he was also an excellent neighbor.
“I was his neighbor for about 18 years and he was just such a gentleman. He was always good to me, always good to my family, to my son. Always welcoming,” explained Olsen.
“He always raised the bar a lot for me because he was meticulous with the way he kept his yard and his lawn. So in the fall, I always had to be out raking leaves because his lawn was spotless.”
“I remember one time my folks were visiting, and I remember it was in February, and I get home from work and my dad said, “Hey you’re already behind, the Judge was out today doing the fertilizing.'”
“So that’s the kind of thing I always had to up my game in terms of keeping up my property.”
“I’ll never forget the time, it was a winter night and I was out kind of late shoveling in my driveway, which was right next to his house. I could hear in the basement Mrs. Macken playing the piano and the Judge singing.”
“He loved to sing. He’d sing in church all the time, he had a great voice. I just always remember that… that here I was late at night, I just put the shovel down and listened to the two of them for a while.”
“So I have great memories. He was a great asset to the legal community and he was such a gentleman.”
Olsen said that like Overman, Judge Macken always strived to make everyone a little better in the way they did their own job.
“He was meticulous. And I always learned from very early on that if I was going to appear in his court or bring him any documents, I had to be very well prepared.”
“And I always loved judges who instilled that in you, that you needed to be prepared. They would be listening, they would be looking at the pleadings you would give to them. And he always was.”
“And I remember the times he would have to criticize me for something or give me some constructive criticism about my part of the case. He always did it in a professional manner, he wasn’t degrading, but he also expected a lot from you. And I always appreciate that as a judge- you always knew in his courtroom what was going to happen. He’d be well prepared and he’d expect the same out of you.”
Olsen reminisced that moving next door to Judge Macken was one of the best decisions he made after law school.
“You know I go back and I remember when we first made the decision to move onto 4th Avenue next door to him. That always intimidated me a little bit. Living next to a judge, how am I going to handle that? He was just a regular person, a regular friend, and always so warm and caring.”
“And he’d do anything for you ,and I loved helping him with his shoveling and his yard, and it’s what neighbors ought to be,” concluded Olsen.
Longtime Nebraska State Patrol Trooper Chuck Elley shared this tribute to Judge Macken with KNEB News:
I was taught that in life we are to use the talents we have been blessed with to do God’s will. That is the way Judge Macken lived his life. Faith, family, friends and service is what he believed in. As a member of St. Agnes Catholic Church, he used his talents as a cantor in the music ministry. He performed at numerous weddings and funerals services throughout his life time. His beautiful, powerful voice left a lasting impression on all who heard him.
Judge Macken used his talents and served as a judge in Scotts Bluff County for 31 years with 28 of those years as a district judge. He was a strong supporter of law enforcement who demanded professionalism, integrity, honesty and to be well prepared when you testified in his courtroom. He was respected by all law enforcement. His judicial peers and attorneys recognized him for his genuine concern for those who appeared in his court. Judge Macken helped so many people by giving them a second chance with probation, sending them to treatment centers due to alcohol and drug addictions and, yes, incarceration.
When I think of Judge Macken the words that immediately come to my mind are morality, fairness, honesty, dedication, professionalism, courage and most of all a true gentleman. Judge Macken always took me for my word when I testified in his court and I always respected him for that. I am a better person for knowing him. Your honor, God bless you and may you rest in peace.
A Mass of Christian Burial for Judge Macken will be held on Saturday at St. Agnes Catholic Church in Scottsbluff.