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Our Attorneys are Champions

Lawyers as Champions

On ABC’s Battle of the Network Stars this summer, acclaimed MMA fighter Ronda Rousey was coaching a team of “TV Lawyers”, made up of actors portraying attorneys on television series such as Law and Order. In her pep talk to her team, Rousey stated matter of factly, “We know everyone hates lawyers.” No more than two minutes later, NFL star Demarcus Ware repeated that sentence word for word. Hold up. Timeout. Penalty on the field.  Defamation of the legal profession.

Rousey and Ware’s statements paint attorneys in a horrible light, and follow similar unfair statements and jokes hurled at lawyers and the profession quite often. Why is this the case? Simply put, much more newspaper ink, website bandwidth, and television time are given to stories that paint attorneys in a negative light than stories about attorneys as agents of good, crusaders for what is right, defenders of peoples' rights.

Changing the Terms

In politics, there is an often-used successful strategy: control the terms of the dialogue and you will have a much better chance of winning people to your position. Rather than allowing the other side to use disparaging terms to describe a position, change the terms to ones in your favor. I think that concept can be used in the conversation of the legal profession, it’s practitioners, and the work we do. Control the terms used in the dialogue about attorneys and the legal profession, and we’ll have a better chance of improving public perception of the lawyers and the legal system.

In their legal practices, attorneys regularly change the terms of a conversation. As advocates for clients, they make sure to promote their stated position as the one that should be taken up by a judge or jury. Persuasiveness is second nature for us in many ways. And when it comes to defending the profession and those in it as good people doing good works, there is a plethora of examples of lawyers doing amazing things to help people and society every day.

Attorneys as “Champions”

A quick look around the local legal community shows a just how many champions we have in our ranks. To be clear, we aren’t using the term champion to mean “a person who has defeated or surpassed all rivals in a competition.” Rather, we are using the second champion definition, “a person who fights or argues for a cause or on behalf of someone else” and the verb definition, “support the cause of; defend.”

The Omaha Bar Association sees so many champions among us, so many attorneys championing things and causes worth their efforts. The OBA is committed to pursuing a campaign to promote attorneys and the legal community as filled with champions that the community in general should be proud and appreciative of.

As a first effort in this ongoing re-defining the terms surrounding the legal profession, the OBA solicited names and stories from our members about a few of the Champions among us. Those that follow are just the first batch of submissions received. Plenty more to follow.

Rob Black 

Rob Black is a champion because he has taken time from his life and from his family in order to dedicate himself to continued service to his country. Rob is a Member of the National Guard and although this is voluntary career choice, the sacrifice of time in order to continue his service should be recognized. Each year, Rob will be required to be away from his family and miss many milestones and important events in order to answer the nation's call. Robs dedication to his profession as a lawyer helps service members navigate through various legal minefields and is a counted on resource for his command. Rob is a consummate professional and is constantly championing on behalf of service members and serves as a constant reminder that all people should be treated equally under the law. 

Bonnie Dee Durham Dawson 

Bonnie was champion for gender equality in the workplace, serving as the first woman public prosecutor in Nebraska, working for the Omaha City Attorney’s office from 1977 to 1982. At age 60, Bonnie joined the Peace Corps, and championed the education of underprivileged children in post-Soviet Poland. Bonnie passed away in March of this year.


Bob Freeman 

Bob has been a champion for the Tri-Faith Initiative in Omaha. Bob is a founding Member of the Initiative, and chairman of the board of directors from 2005-2015. The Initiative is the first of its kind in the country—working to build a Jewish temple, Islamic center, and Episcopalian church all on one property and connected by walkways that meet at a tri-faith center meant to encourage education and understanding.


Hon. Lyle Strom 

Judge Strom is a champion of mock trial competitions by high school students, but in Nebraska and nationwide. For 30 years, he’s been intimately involved in organizing and running the Nebraska Mock Trial Program, and for 20 years, he’s participated in the National Mock Trial Program. In guiding and supporting thousands of high schoolers through mock trial, Judge Strom has inspired future attorneys, and given a constructive outlet for pursuing excellence outside the classroom.

Bill Biggs 

Bill is a champion of service to the public through the Lions Club organization. A Lion since 1962, Bill reached the pinnacle of the organization, serving as President of Lions Club International in 1990-1991. Bill has worked closely with the Lion’s SightFirst Program, which since 1990 has been able to help 30 million people have improved or restored vision.


Muirne Heaney 

Muirne is a champion for those who cannot afford an attorney for civil legal issues they are having. As an attorney at Legal Aid of Nebraska since 2001, Muirne has helped expanded Legal Aid’s service of underserved and unserved populations within Nebraska. Just recently Muirne helped devise an online resource for apartment tenants looking for instant legal advice, but cannot afford to hire an attorney to review their matter. The online resource effectively assists dozens of individuals every day.

Stu Dornan 

Stu is a champion for those without a home, both in his work with Lutheran Family Services, and as an adoptive parent to 5 children from other parts of the world. Stu is a former Board member and President of Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska, and he and with wife Dari have also served as family sponsors for refugee families relocating to Omaha.

Alan Stoler 

Alan has been a champion for many “underdog” cases over the years, including an almost two-decade-long push against the 100-to-1 disparity in lengths of sentences for people convicted of dealing crack cocaine versus powder cocaine, eventually ending with Congress taking heed of U.S. Supreme Court rulings and stripped the term “mandatory” from federal sentencing guidelines. Alan took on a case of a young client who had received an improper and unnecessarily punitive extra 3 years on his sentence, arguing it all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States…and won, getting the sentence overturned. Alan also sued several Nebraska school districts that refused to sanction girls’ softball as a sport, helping to open the door for hundreds of young women to compete in the sport around the state.

Ross Pesek 

Ross has been a champion for “Dreamers”, young immigrants who have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) immigration status in the Omaha area. Ross has personally helped over 200 people obtain DACA status, and through his True Potential Scholarship Program, has awarded over 50 full one year scholarships to Dreamers attending post-secondary educational institutions.


Ed Warin 

Ed was a champion for Georgetown University in the state of Nebraska. As the longtime Nebraska Chair of the Georgetown Alumni Admissions Interview Program, Ed interviewed hundreds of applicants to his law school alma mater, championing and encouraging area top high school students to matriculate to D.C. for their undergraduate education. Ed passed in 2017.


Jean McNeil 

Jean has been a champion for those who cannot afford legal representation. In her former role as Director of the Nebraska State Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyers Project, she coordinated over 700 attorneys volunteering thousands of hours of their time, helping advise over 15,000 people with their legal issues.


John Nelson 

John is a champion for public service. In addition to maintaining his solo law practice, John has served two terms in the Nebraska Unicameral, and as lieutenant governor of the state of Nebraska. Additionally, John has been a champion of and for the Omaha Bar’s Lawyer Referral Service, serving as a member and on the Committee for over 30 years. The work of the Lawyer Referral Service is important, as consultations done through the Service assist people in determining whether or not they have a case to pursue, and advise them of their legal rights.


Lynda Henningsen 

Lynda is a champion of the legal profession and important causes. Through The Daily Record, Lynda supports the Omaha Barristers Club, whose humor and attorney gatherings are important to the collegiality found in Omaha’s legal community. Lynda also serves as the President of the Omaha Legal Professionals, and sponsors OBA events. Additionally, Lynda has worked to raise awareness for the scourge of human trafficking that takes place in Omaha to this day.


J. Terry Macnamara 

Terry is a champion…arguably THE champion of the Omaha Bar Association. From serving as the treasurer for 13 years, to founding the Fall Kickoff BBQ 47 years ago, to attending nearly every event over the past 50 years, to continuing to serve as “Of Counsel” for the Executive Council, Terry has guided this organization with gusto and a trademark smile.

Katie Welsh 

Katie is a champion for victims of domestic violence and for the role of mediation in resolving legal disputes. Prior to attending law school at Creighton, Katie helped establish the Concord Mediation Center. Katie now serves as a client attorney at the Women’s Center for Advancement.



Challenge to Membership

Last year saw the Ice Bucket Challenge sweeping the nation. Not to be left out, the OBA has a challenge for each of our members, and it’s not nearly as shocking to the circulatory system.  We challenge each of you to publicly post on social media (Facebok/Twitter/LinkedIn) a one paragraph statement about a member of the Omaha legal community you consider to be a champion, and why. Tag the OBA, and we’ll share/re-tweet the post, spreading the message far and wide. Together, we can shine a light on our community of champions. You all deserve it.

*If you have a Champion you’d like to submit to be recognized, please email Dave at the name and the champion’s work they are doing or have done.