One month after he was re-elected as the Thurston County Attorney in November 1998, C. Matthew Samuelson was appointed by Gov. Ben Nelson to serve as a county judge in the Sixth Judicial District, including Burt and Washington counties. He was sworn in Feb. 5, 1999.
Now, nearly 21 years later, Samuelson is ready to step down from the bench. He will retire Oct. 22.
“It's seems that not that long ago I remember walking up the sidewalk right here and thinking to myself well, 'I'm starting my third month,'” he said. “Where'd that (time) go?”
Samuelson, who grew up and still lives in Pender, is a 1983 Creighton University School of Law graduate. He began his career practicing law with his father. He also served as the Omaha Tribal judge for 1 1/2 years before running for Thurston County Attorney.
Samuelson served in that post for 12 years when he received his appointment — Nelson's last appointment as governor.
However, Samuelson said he was ambivalent about even applying for the judgeship.
“I really had no aspirations,” he said. “I don't know if people when they get into law they go, 'You know, I want to be a judge.' I don't know if they do that. I didn't.”
In his two decades on the bench, Samuelson has overseen thousands of cases — too many to recall. Some, he said, stick with him. But even then, those can be hard to remember.
“We all wish we would have written down some of the things over the course of your career,” he said. “Some of them are hysterical. You just can't make some of this stuff up. Some of them are tragic. And really, people persevering stories.”
Samuelson credited his staff — Clerk Magistrate Vicki Kuhlman, Sarah Deemer, Rachel Olson and Twila Alexander — for keeping the county courts running smoothly.
“The people that really are the glue of these two places are the staff,” he said. “They are so kind and patient. You're meeting people all the time, every day, and some of them are having tough moments. They're in court for a reason.”
While he's stepping down as a judge, Samuelson's career in law may not yet be over. Samuelson, who has been involved with a mediation board in Fremont, is hoping to work as a mediator.
“I still think I've got a little juice left in the old bones,” he said. “Or at least I'm hoping I do.”
During his career as a judge, Samuelson often ordered people involved in a dispute to go to mediation.
“I really believe in mediation. I would guess, off the top of my head, about 50 percent of those cases get resolved,” he said. “What's great about that is when it's resolved by mediation, both parties feel good about it because they've had their say and they've agreed to settle it.”