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Jewish Press - Hornstein Fund Gives Aspiring Lawyers Chance to Climb Mountains

Claudia Sherman, Foundation Public
Relations Coordinator

Next March will be the 20th anniversary of the death of Bennett Hornstein, an Omaha-born attorney who is still remembered for his commitment to defending those who were hated, who were detested, and whom nobody else would help.

A 1958 graduate of Omaha Central High School, Bennett was the son of Joe and Adele Hornstein. After graduating from the University of Oklahoma, Bennett earned his law degree at the University of California at Berkeley. He married Nancy Venger in 1963 at Beth El Synagogue in Omaha. They had three children: Jill, now married to Joe Goldstein; Beth; and Joe who is a commercial real estate broker in Denver.
Joe was only nine when his father died of cancer, and the young man’s earliest memories of his father were spending summers with family in Vail, CO, and visiting him at his office.
Joe attended Colorado State University from 1995 to 1999 and “had the honor of receiving the Bruce Fellman scholarship,” he said. “…it made a profound impact on my life personally.” In light of being the recipient of that scholarship and to keep Bennett’s spirit alive in the Nebraska legal community and continue to make a difference in the community that was his life, Joe Hornstein, with his mother’s and sisters’ backing, established an endowment fund in August with the Jewish Federation of Omaha Foundation in Bennett’s honor.
Joe, who is 28, devoted “hours and hours,” discussing the idea of establishing a fund, setting up an agreement with Marty Ricks, Executive Director of the Jewish Federation Foundation, working on getting a website designed to educate people on the mission of the scholarship fund and how to make a contribution to the fund, and arranging fundraising events, according to his mother.
On the website, Joe wrote that his father decided to spend a significant portion of his life “fighting for the rights of individuals and working for what he believed was fairness for the underdog.” Bennett fervently believed “that every defendant, no matter how poor, was entitled to a good lawyer.” He served for 20 years as assistant Douglas County Public Defender in Omaha, noted Joe. (More can be found at the endowment’s website:
“He was a great appellate lawyer,” said Tom Rowen who worked in the county attorney’s office when Bennett worked in the public defender’s office. They became business partners as well as close friends. Joe Hornstein and Rowen’s son Leo became good friends too. “Bennett was a great guy and he’d be proud of Joe,” for setting up the scholarship endowment, Tom Rowen added.
“I knew him all my life,” said Tom Fellman who knew Bennett’s parents and was close with his brother Mike. “Bennett was a passionate warrior for the underdog and an environmentalist before environmentalism was cool.” Fellman described Bennett as a “very liberal-minded guy” who was also “very intelligent and learned. He came to our son’s funeral in a wheelchair knowing what was in store for himself. He was just a wonderful, big hearted, thoughtful guy.”
During his last couple years, Bennett formed a private practice but continued working in the public defender’s office until he died remaining true to his pledge to defend the rights of people who couldn’t afford a lawyer. He argued many cases before the Nebraska Supreme Court and one before the U.S. Supreme Court against a Nebraska constitutional amendment that permitted judges to hold rape suspects without bail. Joe, who was only six at the time, remembers going to Washington, D.C. with his Dad for the case. Bennett nearly missed the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in front of the U. S. Supreme Court due to a throat ailment that impaired his ability to talk. He also battled cancer for eight years which eventually stole his life at the age of 46.
“He left behind a legacy of a strong will, integrity, and a compassionate heart,” Joe notes on the website. He was an inspiration to his family, friends, colleagues and is “remembered for his love, compassion, and unwavering selflessness…” Joe continued.
In 1982, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association honored Bennett for his “tireless efforts on behalf of the poor and powerless.”
But for those who were close to him, Bennett was even more. “He displayed a dedication to his family and profession, a desire to make a difference in his community, a will to persevere against all odds, a sense of humor that was contagious, and a passion for the outdoors,” Joe recalled.
“One of his greatest personal achievements was climbing Switzerland’s Matterhorn, one of the most difficult ascents in the world, when he was studying abroad during college. Bennett embraced these challenges and encouraged others to do the same. Many remember him for his passionate conversations on politics or law that would last for hours and often leave others inspired to make a difference,” Joe relates on the website.
Established in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Omaha, the Bennett G. Hornstein Endowment Fund will be used in the form of an annual scholarship awarded to an aspiring law student who demonstrates Bennett’s core values and beliefs of commitment to justice and of striving to make a difference in the Nebraska legal community. The Hornstein family objective is “to educate and reward the next generation of attorneys who will forge their own place in their respective legal communities. Bennett would insist that each applicant be given the opportunity to seek out and climb his or her own individual mountain.”
“I have truly enjoyed working with Joe on his Dad’s endowment fund,” commented Ricks. “Joe is deeply passionate about the community, remembering all the good things Bennett stood for, but more importantly, Joe wants some law students in Nebraska who mirror Bennett’s values to have the opportunity to receive some financial assistance to offset the high cost of law school.”
For information on the scholarship, contact Ricks at the Foundation, 402.334.6440 or at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . The inaugural scholarship will be awarded in 2006. Donations in memory of Adele Hornstein, who died last week, also may be made to this fund.