The Box Butte County Public Defender, Jon Worthman, was placed on a leave of absence after being arrested for possession of cocaine. He is expected t resign at the end of July.
At their meeting on Tuesday, the Box Butte County Commissioners passed a resolution to place Worthman on leave without pay. According to Commissioner Mike McGinnis Worthman will be allowed to maintain his health insurance during that period.
“He’s going to be on a leave of absence,” said McGinnis. “He’s not going to receive a paycheck from the county, but he’s got some health issues too, on top of his other troubles. So, we’re going to keep his health insurance in force for him until July 31.”
Worthman, 52, of Gering, was taken into custody on the evening of Jan. 7 in Scottsbluff. According to court records, the WING Drug Task Force and other law enforcement agencies organized a controlled delivery, where an individual sold one ounce of cocaine to Worthman.
After the transaction was completed, members of WING and the Scottsbluff Police Department contacted Worthman and arrested him. During the arrest, they recovered the controlled substance from Worthman’s vehicle, and seized some of his belongings including his cell phone, his truck, keys to his home, office and vehicles, his prescription sunglasses and his checkbook.
According to court records, Worthman told law enforcement in a later interview, “he believed he would be purchasing at least two eight balls (approximately 7 grams) of cocaine” from the individual. He also, “admitted to receiving cocaine in the past in exchange for legal services, as well as purchasing and using the illegal substance himself.”
Worthman was booked into the Scotts Bluff County Detention Center and charged with possession of cocaine with the intent to deliver, a class 1D felony. His bond was set at 10 percent of $150,000, and he bonded out the morning of Jan. 8.
Nebraska Assistant Attorney General Douglas L. Warner was appointed as a special prosecutor in the case.
At a hearing on Jan. 9 in Scotts Bluff County, Judge Randin Roland ordered Worthman’s phone to be returned to him by the state, according to court records. Judge Roland noted in the order that, “irreparable harm will be caused to (Worthman’s) clients in matters unrelated to this case by the unrestricted search and review of data stored on (Worthman’s) cell phone.” In the order, he noted that the matter will be reviewed at a later hearing to “determine appropriate arrangements for the lawful search of (Worthman’s) phone in a manner that protects the attorney-client privileges held by (Worthman’s) clients in unrelated matters.
On Friday, Jan. 18, a hearing took place on the release of Worthman’s property. The judge granted the release of the personal items but denied the release of Worthman’s vehicle.
Worthman is next scheduled to be appear in Scotts Bluff County Court on Feb. 21 for a preliminary hearing.
If Worthman is found guilty, he faces up to 50 years in prison, with a mandatory minimum sentence of three years.
Worthman took office as the Box Butte County Public Defender in 2014, and was re-elected to the position in 2018. He has been practicing law since 1994, and has provided his services as a private attorney, as well.