After being allowed to delay his official resignation in order to stay on the county’s health insurance plan, Jon Worthman, the Box Butte County Public Defender, submitted his resignation to the commissioners, leaving the spot open as the county continues the search for someone to fill the position.
“We got an email from Judy (Messersmith, County Clerk), it’s dated the 12th, that Mr. Jon Worthman, effective May 12, turned in his resignation immediately, and we will no longer be furnishing the insurance for him,” said Box Butte County Board of Commissioners Chairman Mike McGinnis, calling for a motion to accept Worthman’s resignation. The board voted unanimously to accept the resignation.
At their meeting on Monday, the commissioners said they have been in talks with someone who has shown interest in the position. McGinnis said he has met with Joel Burke, from Imperial, who has indicated his eagerness to become the Box Butte County Public Defender.
“He came up and met with me between our last meeting and this meeting,” McGinnis said. “I talked with him a bit and showed him the courthouse. He’s interested in taking it to the next step, and I need to know some direction from the commissioners.”
Commissioner Susan Lore asked what the next step in the process would look like. She and Commissioner Doug Hashman asked about the possibility of interviewing Burke for the position.
Hashman said they would have to negotiate a salary and a start date for Burke.
“He’s willing to come, obviously,” McGinnis said. “The only issue he had when we visited that I haven’t shared with you two (fellow commissioners) is that he does have a little bit of business he needs to finish up down there. But, he was wondering if he did decide to come up here, if he would have to be here five days a week, or if he could be here for three or four days a week, then take one day to go home and try and finish up his personal business on his other office stuff.”
When Worthman served as public defender, he still lived in Gering. Hashman asked about the requirements for Worthman to be in Alliance, and whether most of Burke’s business in Box Butte County could be handled remotely with COVID-19.
“I don’t know what we required before with Worthman,” said Hashman. “As long as they get the work done and commute as necessary. It would be nice if he would be up here, but we didn’t require it before.”
McGinnis said Burke would likely relocate to Box Butte County and indicated he may open his private practice as well. Lore requested Burke appear at the June 3 meeting to discuss the opportunity.
Since Worthman was placed on leave on January 21, the county has struggled to find someone to fill the position of public defender, relying on outside firms to fill the gap in the mean time. In March, the total cost of court-appointed counsel was $10,917.83.
Earlier in the year, the commissioners hired Darin Nepper to serve as the interim public defender until July 31, when Worthman was expected to formally resign. Nepper started his job on Feb. 29, and at the March 4 board meeting, Nepper told the commissioners he had accepted another position he was offered. The board voted to release Nepper from his contract and to pay him $1,600 for the 16 hours he had worked.
Worthman is currently charged with possession of 10-27 grams of cocaine with intent to deliver, a class 1D felony, in Scotts Bluff County. The charge arises from an incident on Jan. 7. According to court records, members of the WING Task Force and the Scottsbluff Police Department arrested Worthman after a controlled purchase, in which he bought one ounce of cocaine.
According to court records, Worthman admitted to, “receiving cocaine in the past in exchange for legal services, as well as purchasing and using the illegal substance himself.”