Longtime Omaha attorney James Koley, who died this week at age 83, helped dozens of corporations and provided leadership in a number of difficult community situations. And he was a vigorous champion of the public’s right to know.
Koley, who served as general counsel, secretary and vice president for Peter Kiewit Sons’ Inc. and on the board of The World-Herald, once told a gathering of his Koley Jessen law firm that he always “made my clients’ problems my problems.”
One of those problems made legal history. When a Nebraska judge sought to gag news coverage of parts of the Erwin Charles Simants murder case in North Platte, the dispute went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The unanimous high court decision in Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart — with the justices rejecting prior restraints on news coverage of criminal cases — became a landmark ruling that stands to this day.
“He was very effective across a whole range of legal matters,” retired World-Herald Publisher Harold W. Andersen recalled. “From my viewpoint, Jim’s most noteworthy strengths were as a First Amendment lawyer. He played a major role in a number of confrontations where people would try to put restrictions on freedom of the press — and he battled very successfully on behalf of that principle.”
We all hope to do valuable work in life and leave our communities a better place. Jim Koley certainly did that.