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Embattled public defender placed on medical leave, to step down formally in July

Embattled public defender placed on medical leave, to step down formally in July

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A public defender accused of trading controlled substances for legal services will step down from his position.

The Box Butte County Commissioners considered the Box Butte county public defender position held by Jon Worthman during its meeting Tuesday. Authorities arrested Worthman, of Gering, on Jan. 8 in Scottsbluff and he faces charges of possession of cocaine with the intent to deliver, not less than 10 grams

At the time of his arrest, Worthman served as the public defender in Box Butte County, re-elected to his post in 2018. Worthman had served as a public defender for the county from 2003 to 2009, when he resigned his position, and returned to the post after the previous public defender, Dave Eubanks, was appointed to serve as the Scotts Bluff County Attorney.

Before taking action on Tuesday, commissioners discussed Worthman in executive session for nearly an hour, with Commissioners Mike McGinnis, Susan Lore, and Doug Hashman, and County Attorney Terry Curtiss and Jon Worthman’s legal counsel Maren Chaloupka present. After coming back from executive session and discussing a few other items, Curtiss, representing the county, read from a resolution adopted by the commissioners. The resolution specifies that Worthman would be placed on medical leave and allowed to continue his health coverage until July 31, 2020. However, Worthman will not receive a salary and he will resign his position, effective July 31.

According to the resolution, Worthman has also been placed on inactive/disability status with the Nebraska Bar Association, though the website still listed Worthman on active status as of Wednesday, Jan. 23.

The Box Butte County Commissioners also approved the retaining of the Scottsbluff law firm of Kelly, Ostdiek, Snyder, Ossian, Vogl and Snyder to serve in the interim in providing public defender services. An attorney with the practice, Rebecca Chesek, was named as lead attorney.

Worthman, who was arraigned on charges in Scotts Bluff County Court on Friday, Jan. 17, is next scheduled to appear in Scotts Bluff County Court on Feb. 21 for a preliminary hearing.

Chaloupka told the Star-Herald that she would be vigorously defending Worthman on the charges. 

“There is more to the story than what has been reported so far," she said.

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