Douglas County lawyer candidate’s affair, promotion of lady led to his ouster from agency

The Democratic candidate trying to unseat Douglas County Lawyer Don Kleine has saturated Omaha with a well-funded tv, radio and yard signal marketing campaign, saying he may have a three-prong commonplace for main the state’s largest group of prosecutors.

Equal justice. Integrity. Transparency.

With little trial and no post-law college prosecutorial expertise, Dave Pantos has pointed to, amongst different issues, the just about six years he spent as govt director of certainly one of Nebraska’s largest nonprofits — Authorized Support of Nebraska.

Here’s what he has omitted: Pantos, 52, was pressured out by Authorized Support’s board of administrators in summer season 2014 after he promoted a subordinate with whom he was having an affair, three sources informed The World-Herald on situation of anonymity. Additional complicating issues, the underling was the spouse of an lawyer who as soon as labored for Pantos at Authorized Support.

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Not solely did the 2 have an prolonged affair, Pantos promoted the lady to a director’s place regardless of her lack of a legislation diploma or different authorized credentials, the sources stated.

The promotion of the lady to director of Authorized Support’s Native American Challenge rankled attorneys on the nonprofit, which serves low-income individuals on civil issues. Two attorneys and a then-board member stated they might consider no different director among the many statewide company’s 14 leaders on the time who wasn’t a lawyer, aside from Authorized Support’s accountant. Additional, The World-Herald has realized, the subordinate whom Pantos promoted was not a licensed paralegal, not to mention an lawyer.

Requested Thursday in regards to the causes for his departure from Authorized Support, Pantos denied the affair or the promotion.

“Who stated that?” he stated. “I do not know what you are speaking about.”

Saturday afternoon, two days after the interview, Pantos despatched an e-mail acknowledging the affair however denying that he promoted the lady due to it. He stated he promoted the lady earlier than an affair befell.

“This consensual scenario was a lapse in skilled judgment and I remorse it,” he stated. “Nevertheless, all events have moved on since this occurred over eight years in the past. I need to particularly word that there have been no improper hiring or promotion choices made on the time. Any solutions in any other case are obviously false.”

The attorneys who spoke to The World-Herald dispute that. Along with the underling being the one director who did not have a legislation diploma, the sources prompt that the lady obtained an outsized position within the company, typically showing by Pantos’ facet at company management gatherings. Court docket data point out that the “shifting on” concerned all events — three of the 4 had labored at Authorized Support — going by divorce and baby custody proceedings.

The difficulty got here to gentle as Pantos, a New Jersey native who moved to Omaha in 2006, mounts an all-out blitz on Kleine, an Omaha native and four-term incumbent who turned a lightning rod after declining to cost a White bar proprietor within the Could 2020 capturing of a Black man within the Previous Market through the George Floyd protests.

Kleine, the state’s most skilled prosecutor, initially dominated Jake Gardner’s actions self-defense after viewing video that confirmed the person, James Scurlock, along with his arm across the neck or higher chest of Gardner. Kleine later relented and requested Douglas County’s presiding decide to nominate a particular prosecutor and grand jury to analyze.

After the Nebraska Democratic Occasion stated Kleine’s determination “perpetuated white supremacy,” Kleine switched to the Republican Occasion.

At $208,000 a yr, the Douglas County lawyer oversees an workplace of about 60 attorneys who prosecuted greater than 4,400 felonies a yr, advise the Douglas County Board and defend the county in opposition to civil litigation.

Pantos acknowledges that he has no prosecutorial expertise past his yr within the Bloomington (Ind.) Metropolis Lawyer’s Workplace, when he was a licensed third-year Indiana College legislation pupil serving to prosecute circumstances. (Probably the most critical case: drunken driving.) However he payments himself as a thinker and a frontrunner who will work with lawmakers to cut back jail overcrowding and says he’ll rent a chief deputy whose forte is felony legislation.

He additionally vowed to convey transparency to the workplace, alleging that Kleine is “hiding just about every thing.” Kleine rejects that assertion, saying his workplace and its circumstances are an open e book.

In a 75-minute interview final week, Pantos listed bringing transparency to the workplace amongst his prime three priorities, and introduced up the phrase “transparency” half a dozen instances.

Then got here questions in regards to the promotion of the lady. Requested Thursday in regards to the months-long affair and his promotion of her, Pantos stated: “I would not know something about that.”

Others did. Two attorneys with information of the inside workings of Authorized Support approached The World-Herald about Pantos’ particular therapy of the lady because the newspaper was conducting its routine background verify of candidates. They and a 3rd lawyer confirmed studies in regards to the affair, the promotion of the lady and the nonprofit board’s investigation that pressured Pantos out.

The board acquired Pantos’ resignation in summer season 2014. Since then, Pantos labored for 3 years as govt director of Autism Motion Partnership, as an lawyer for individuals going through eviction and as an adviser and supervisor in three in the end unsuccessful campaigns — two for congressional candidate Kara Eastman and one for main candidate RJ Neary, each Democrats. He additionally was appointed to fill a Metro Group Faculty board seat in 2017 and misplaced his run for a similar seat in 2020.

The invention of the affair led to a divorce between the underling and her then-husband, a former Authorized Support lawyer. Pantos and his then-wife divorced three years later, in 2017. Pantos has since remarried.

Pantos pushed again on the notion that every one company administrators have been attorneys, mentioning that he appointed nonlawyers to administrators of finance, grant writing and fundraising. Additional, the lady did not need to be an lawyer to look in tribal court docket.

“Her place didn’t require a State Bar licensure,” he stated. “She was eminently certified for this place and was already a senior workers member in her program. She stands on her personal advantage.”

The attorneys did not dispute that she had been at Authorized Support for some time however they famous that authorized packages have been nearly solely led by attorneys. Over the course of 2013 and into 2014, attorneys started trying sideways on the underling’s presence at management roundtables held by Pantos. All others on the desk have been attorneys.

Within the Thursday interview, The World-Herald requested Pantos why he left Authorized Support. He acknowledged his want to direct Autism Motion Partnership, one of many state’s leaders in funding and programming for individuals with autism.

“I needed to do one thing mission-focused on particular wants, and that was a chance at AAP,” he stated.

A reporter identified that there was a four-month hole between his departure from Authorized Support and his hiring at AAP.

The AAP job “wasn’t open but,” he stated. “That they had an interim govt director; they needed to transition him out, so I did consulting, fundraising, authorized work on the facet.”

Reporter: “Have been there another causes you left Authorized Support?”

Requested if he had an affair with a subordinate, Pantos responded: “What’s that? Who stated that?”

Advised there have been a number of sources, Pantos stated: “I would not learn about that. I do not know what you are speaking about.”

When a reporter gave the title of the underling and the place to which Pantos promoted her, Pantos stated: “OK. Can we go off the file?”

Pantos then stated he was going to take a break. He left his workplace in his central Omaha marketing campaign headquarters for quarter-hour. When he returned, he declined to deal with a number of questions on when and why the lady was promoted and whether or not it was a reward for the affair.

“You already know, unspecified sources making statements — you are sandbagging me,” Pantos stated. “I am simply not going to remark.”

He then acknowledged the affair with the subordinate within the Saturday e-mail.

The Authorized Support attorneys who spoke to The World-Herald stated Pantos initially was an affable, albeit forceful chief. One famous that Pantos wasted little time after he took over for former director Doug German in 2009. Pantos fired an lawyer after receiving studies that the person acquired tipsy and made passes at assist workers throughout a social gathering.

That made Pantos’ habits in carrying on an affair and selling the lady much more eyebrow-raising, the supply stated.

Pantos reported on to Authorized Support’s board, which at the moment lists 18 members from throughout the state. A then-board member stated Pantos’ affair and elevation of the lady capped the board member’s frustration with Pantos’ management. “He simply wasn’t supervisor throughout,” the then-board member stated.

Within the interview, Pantos listed his accomplishments at Authorized Support. As litigation director, he stated, he created job forces to bolster attorneys’ information and expertise in particular authorized areas akin to incapacity, client legislation and landlord-tenant circumstances. He opened two public entry facilities to increase low-income residents’ capability to acquire authorized assist and he created a medical-legal partnership. He stated he labored arduous to attempt to stabilize Authorized Support’s funding throughout a “tumultuous time.”

Authorized Support is partly on personal donations, partly on grants from the nationwide Authorized Providers Company and partly on curiosity from attorneys’ belief accounts. Across the time Pantos took over, he stated, rates of interest plummeted, limiting the sum of money from the belief accounts.

Pantos secured sufficient funding to assist the company’s workers, together with 30 to 40 attorneys — the first position of an govt director.

In a press launch saying his departure, Authorized Support’s board highlighted Pantos’ positives. The discharge made no point out of the board’s investigation into the affair and promotion, saying merely that Pantos resigned to “pursue different skilled pursuits.”

“We will definitely miss Dave and his vital contribution to Authorized Support’s mission,” wrote then-board president David Piester, a retired federal decide. “Dave fostered neighborhood and statewide collaborations and has been instrumental in creating relationships with stakeholders within the supply of providers to low-income Nebraskans. Dave was an innovator who introduced vitality and keenness to the mission of Authorized Support.”

One company lawyer stated he was surprised by the disparate method the board dealt with the departures of Pantos and the lady. Pantos was praised within the press launch saying his departure. In the meantime, the lawyer stated, the lady was proven the door not lengthy after Pantos. Requested why the lady left, the then-board member stated the board would have been concerned solely in self-discipline of Pantos. Board members wouldn’t have made a personnel determination over a staffer.

“It was stunning to me when she misplaced her job additionally,” the lawyer stated. “It appeared to me the clear unhealthy actor was the supervisor, the manager director who had the facility within the equation. Even when they each hadn’t been married, it is nonetheless not applicable when she solutions on to him.”

One other Authorized Support lawyer stated the board’s assertion praising Pantos was designed to not alarm donors.

“It is not good that the final time you ran an enormous group you have been requested to abruptly go away and you place the group in a very unhealthy place,” the lawyer stated. “It was a multitude.”

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