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Can I access the legal services that the Office of the General Counsel provides?
The administration at each campus needs to be informed about the potential legal concerns on its campus, prior to the engagement of legal counsel. Therefore, members of the campus community may contact the office of the general counsel, but should first confirm that they have the authority to do so, in accordance with the applicable rules at their campus. (For example, a campus may require an employee to first notify the vice chancellor for business & finance or the vice chancellor for academic affairs, prior to contacting the university’s attorneys.) In emergencies where life, property or other university interests are at immediate risk, employees should contact university legal counsel with or without formal authority. Even then, it is important to notify campus administrators that you have contacted the office of the general counsel due to an emergency.
Frequently Asked Questions
FAQs for University of Nebraska employees
The office of the general counsel represents the university with respect to its legal concerns. Sometimes, the office determines that the university is best served by sending a matter to "outside counsel." The vice president and general counsel must provide prior approval before a matter is sent to outside attorneys. Usually, the campus is responsible for the legal costs associated with sending a matter to outside counsel.
Send a written request to the office of the general counsel, asking the general counsel to arrange for your defense. Civil actions against any member of the Board of Regents, or any university officer, employee, or student in training may qualify for a University paid defense under § 6.8 of the Bylaws of the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska. Certain criminal actions against commissioned university law enforcement officers may also qualify for a university-paid defense under NU's self-insurance program.
Send a copy of the subpoena and all material that accompanied the subpoena, such as a copy of the postmarked envelope, check for witness fee, and instructions to the office of the general counsel. A lawyer will examine the material and contact you with advice.
The university self-insures some risks and has insurance coverage for others. Workers compensation, general and professional liability insurance for personal injury and property damage, and other types of insurance are available. The vice president for business and finance or your campus risk manager can provide details.
There are a few individuals on each campus who regularly reply to these requests as part of their job duties; however, most employees do not. Those employees should immediately provide the general counsel's office with a copy of the request. An attorney will examine the request and provide advice. It is important not to delay in contacting this office, as a response to a request for public records must be provided within four business days. When you contact the attorney, you may be asked to refer to Neb. Rev. Stat. 86-712.05 in the course of your discussion.
This question has some general answers and many exceptions to those general answers. Except for "directory information," both state and federal law provide that student information is confidential -- and even then, there are ways that students can cause their directory information to be protected as well. Before acting upon any request for student information, contact the office of the general counsel for assistance.
Most of the time, student information cannot be disclosed without specific written consent from the student. Student information should not even be shared within the university, unless the person receiving the information has a legitimate educational purpose for the information. To learn more, see Regents Policy 5.10, but contact the office of the general counsel for assistance with the application of that policy.
State law and the Board of Regents Bylaw 1.1.4 provide that an employee's routine directory information and salary are public information. However, personal information contained in personnel files is confidential, unless the person to whom those records apply consents to its disclosure. Information that is part of an employee's personnel files cannot be shared without the employee's consent.
In the case of job or other references, the safest approach is to get prior consent from the employee, particularly if the reference will be less than favorable. If you do not have employee consent, stick to factual observations without the embellishment of opinion or speculation. For example, you might report that the employee has been tardy to work without excuse five times, not that you think the employee comes in late due to irresponsible personal behaviors. Seek assistance from the human resources department if you find yourself involved with a difficult or sensitive reference request.
The intent of the Nebraska Open Meetings Act is to provide public access to governmental bodies that make public policy. For example, the Board of Regents, or a committee appointed by the Board of Regents to provide it with advice, is subject to the open meetings laws. However, the vast numbers of committees that operate within the university community are not involved in advising the Regents or in making public policy. In most instances, committee meetings are unlikely to be subject to the Open Meetings Act. Call the office of the general counsel with any questions about a particular committee.
Probably not. Very few people have the authority to sign contracts or enter into agreements on behalf of the university. Regents Policy 6.3 lists the kinds of contracts that campuses may enter into without first securing approval from the Board of Regents. Contracts that are not listed there probably need to be submitted to the Board of Regents for approval. Even if your contract is described in Regents Policy 6.3 as one that your campus has the authority to enter into, you probably don't have authority to sign the contract yourself. Each campus has a list of persons with the delegated authority to sign certain kinds of contracts. Contact your campus's business and finance office to find out how contracts are administered and signed on your campus.
As a general rule, purchases of goods and services costing over $75,000 are subject to the public bidding process. Contact the purchasing department in your campus business and finance office for assistance with purchases, bids and entering into purchase contracts. Regents Policy 6.2.1 sets forth the university's purchasing policy.
Joel D. Pedersen
Joel D. Pedersen was selected as Vice President and General Counsel for the University of Nebraska in January, 2008. The Vice President and General Counsel is the chief legal officer of the four-campus university and a member of its senior administrative leadership. Pedersen leads a group of attorneys and professional staff, providing a wide array of legal services, advice and representation to the university community.
Prior to his appointment as General Counsel, Pedersen was Associate General Counsel for the University beginning in 2006, and worked on a broad range of initiatives including contracts related to the Holland Computing Center at the Peter Kiewit Institute, real estate transactions, construction contracts, and environmental law, including advising on compliance and removal actions at the Agriculture Research and Development Center (ARDC) Mead Superfund site.
Pedersen spent the previous 18 years as an Assistant City Attorney for the City of Lincoln. Pedersen was lead counsel for the city in multiple civil litigation matters, including appellate practice before the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court of Nebraska. He represented the city in the public/private partnership that resulted in Haymarket Park, an athletic complex that is home to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln baseball and softball teams, as well as the Lincoln Saltdogs. He served as legal counsel for Lincoln’s Community Health Endowment, the Lincoln Lancaster County Health Board, and drafted and negotiated legal agreements for the Access Medicaid Program. Pedersen also served as legal counsel for Pershing Auditorium and served on the Arena Task Force finance subcommittee. Pedersen represented the city in a number of complex redevelopment projects involving tax increment financing, infrastructure, real estate acquisitions and environmental compliance.
Pedersen currently serves as legal counsel to the Joint Antelope Valley Authority (JAVA), the administrative entity created by the city, university and Lower Platte South Natural Resources District to oversee the Antelope Valley Project, the largest public works initiative in Lincoln’s history.
Pedersen is a member of the Nebraska Bar Association, and is admitted to practice in Nebraska and the Federal District Courts in Nebraska. Pedersen is a member of the National Association of College and University Attorneys, serves on the executive committee of the Corporate Counsel section of the NSBA and is a Master of the Bar in the Robert Van Pelt American Inns of Court.
Pedersen received his B.A. in English from South Dakota State University in December of 1984, and his law degree from the University of Nebraska in 1988. He and his wife, Jean, have two children, Nicole and Kyle.