Gage County could have insurance to cover a $28.1 million jury award against the county.
That is the opinion of a Lincoln law firm hired by the county to help find a way to pay that amount.
The Nebraska Intergovernmental Risk Management Association (NIRMA) and EMC Insurance both say no coverage existed.
Attorney Joel Nelson says it’s worth challenging that position, perhaps through the Nebraska Supreme Court or an appellate court.
“We think the county has a very legitimate basis for pursuing those questions, hopefully, through voluntary discussion with NIRMA and EMC, but if they are not willing to come to the table, then through a declaratory judgment lawsuit,” Nelson told county officials.
Gage County was ordered to compensate six wrongfully convicted people, known as the Beatrice Six, after they spent a combined 70 years in prison for the rape and murder of Helen Wilson in February 1985.
Nelson says even though Gage County’s NIRMA coverage began after the jury verdict, he believes retroactive coverage existed when the Beatrice Six were convicted.
EMC also provided certain policies for Gage County in 1989, when DNA testing exonerated the six.
“There are a lot of people with a lot at stake and we just don’t think it would be wise… to speculate,” Nelson said. “And it would be speculation, because this is an extremely complex set of questions we’re looking at. There is no guidance from our Nebraska Supreme Court or our Court of Appeals.”
At the same time, Gage County is getting support from two former state lawmakers.
George “Bill” Burrows of Adams and Norm Wallman of Cortland are part of a group of citizens lobbying state government to help pay the jury award.
Burrows told county supervisors Wednesday he believes the state has an obligation to assist, because the property tax implications are huge.
Doug Kennedy, KWBE, contributed to this story.