- Associated Press - Friday, November 11, 2016

BEATRICE, Neb. (AP) - Gage County has hired a law firm that offers bankruptcy services as the county struggles to deal with a $28.1 million judgment awarded to six people who were wrongfully convicted of murder.

County officials signed contracts Wednesday with Lincoln-based Woods & Aitken and two other law firms providing legal services.

Bankruptcy has been among the scenarios county leaders have been forced to consider as they appeal the judgment won in July by the so-called Beatrice Six inmates, who spent a combined 77 years in prison in the 1985 death of 68-year-old Helen Wilson before DNA testing cleared them in 2008.

County Attorney Roger Harris told the Lincoln Journal Star (https://bit.ly/2eYTQwr ) that the various options require attorneys who have specialties that the county’s current legal team doesn’t have.

“You can’t wait until the last minute to do these things, so we are taking some steps to protect the rights of the taxpayers,” Harris said.

The county’s current and former insurers have denied coverage, and Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said last week that the state couldn’t lend the county money because the damages were awarded in a federal lawsuit.

The county has appealed the judgment, arguing there wasn’t enough evidence to find against the county and law enforcement officials and saying the award was too high. A federal judge rejected the appeal in September. The county has since appealed to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The county wants the appellate court let the county delay paying the judgment while the court considers the appeal.

“Given the county’s current financial status and the lack of immediately available mechanisms for raising funds, allowing immediate execution of the judgment creates serious risk that the county will be forced to enter bankruptcy before the county even has an opportunity to pursue its rights on appeal,” Jennifer Tomka, a private attorney for the county, said in a filing Wednesday.

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, https://www.journalstar.com

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