Sidwell: The great communicator
Countless Lincoln families and children lost an amazing advocate when Legal Aid of Nebraska’s attorney Scott Sidwell, 70, retired after 20 years of representing juvenile cases in court.
A graduate of Kearney State College (now known as University of Nebraska at Kearney), Sidwell had a private practice for 25 years prior to his Legal Aid career.
“Scott took the time to understand not only the legal issues involved in a case, but also the needs of his clients,” said Legal Aid of Nebraska paralegal Tania Sercl. “He was skilled not only at communicating with others involved in the case to resolve issues, but in successfully advocating for his clients.”
Patrick Carraher, managing attorney of Legal Aid’s Lincoln office, recognized Sidwell’s unique approach and character. “Because he’s got charisma, he can say things to people that I probably can’t say.”
In the mid-80s, Sidwell was a well-known Nebraska figure and his gift for connecting with others bolstered him along the way. He ran (and lost) against Virginia Smith for Congress in 1986, but he garnered 31 percent of the Third District vote, which was high compared to most of Smith’s opponents, according to the Kearney Hub.
In 2001, he briefly took on the role of Executive Director of the Nebraska Association of County Officials, an organization representing elected and appointed county officials. After his tenure at the County Officials Association, Sidwell pondered whether to return to practice law in Kearney or seek another path.
Sidwell reached out to a former classmate who was executive director at Legal Aid of Nebraska at the time.
“I had always liked juvenile court work, so I approached Roberta Stick to see if there were any openings.” Fortunately for Legal Aid, there were.
Making a difference
While there have been many cases and clients, through the years, some stand out more than others.
Sercl helped gather information and prepared client reports for Sidwell, but she most remembers clients’ resiliency and strength. “There are some incredible stories of that resiliency and that ability to power through and not just survive, but thrive.”
“He made me always want to be a better worker – to do my best,” Sercl said.
A fight for the gridiron
One memorable client was a teen who had immigrated to Nebraska and who beat all odds due to Sidwell’s talents.
He had a dream to play college football, but his family’s home environment was unstable. The child didn’t want that same fate for himself.
“This 14-year-old saw the possibilities in his future, despite the cards that were laid out for him,” Sercl said. Because of the teen’s determination and wishes, and Scott’s advocacy, he is now playing for a Division-I program.
Sidwell’s wife, Jean, serves as the Buffalo County Treasurer in Kearney. She will also retire soon and the couple, who recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, looks forward to traveling.
Sidwell advises other attorneys to focus not on reasons why something can’t be done. Rather, look at what the client needs. Focus on that, and “you maybe be able to find a way for it to be done,” he said.
Carraher, the managing attorney in Lincoln said: “He’s the great communicator. He ran for Congress. He’s just quick on his feet and smooth and sharp and intelligent – that’s Scott.”
Jen Litton, Development Coordinator at Legal Aid of Nebraska, is the author of this article.