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Omaha judge criticized for removing attorneys from courtroom

March 23, 2019

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — An Omaha judge is under scrutiny again for her decisions in the courtroom after removing three attorneys from a hearing this month in a child abandonment case.

Douglas County Juvenile Court Judge Elizabeth Crnkovich removed the former prosecutor in the case, Mark Hanna, and defense attorneys Nelson and Kristina Murphree, saying they didn’t have standing to participate in the hearing, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

Crnkovich also barred the attorneys from watching the proceedings from the gallery. The move is unusual because all Nebraska court hearings, including juvenile cases, are public.

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said Hanna did nothing to warrant the treatment.

“He didn’t do anything to deserve to be kicked out of this courtroom,” Kleine said. “He wasn’t acting up. He was simply there because we have an interest in this case. And yet the judge told him to leave.”

The case being heard involved Robert and Heather Normand, who police say abandoned their then-4-year-old boy at the Children’s Hospital in Omaha in 2016.

Crnkovich, who has been a judge for more than 20 years, didn’t respond to the newspaper’s request for comment. She has been criticized for past decisions in the courtroom, including removing members of a citizen watchdog group who she said were being disruptive and handcuffing a typically mild-mannered assistant public defender.

Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha has called her behavior intemperate and sought her removal from the bench.

“This is a woman who has intimidated and threatened people in her courtroom,” Chambers said.

Crnkovich has defended her decisions, saying she has a no-nonsense approach.

“Do I hold people’s feet to the fire? I’m told I do, and I’m sure I do,” she told the newspaper in 2016. “I will confess I’ve been told I don’t suffer fools gladly.”

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Information from: Omaha World-Herald, http://www.omaha.com