Jan Gradwohl was not shy about calling out injustice and inequity, and using her power to create positive change. We’re sad to share that Jan recently passed away at the age of 93 and leaves an enormous legacy as an advocate for justice.
Jan was a longtime Nebraska Appleseed board member, having served from 2008 to 2014. She was a key leader on Appleseed’s Nominations & Corporate Governance Committee. In her role on this committee, she pushed our Board of Directors to take a hard look at board representation and make important strides adding greater racial diversity and people with lived experience.
Jan was a trailblazer breaking many barriers for women in the legal profession. She received her law degree from the University of Nebraska College of Law in 1954. She served a distinguished career as the fourth woman in Nebraska to serve as a judge and the first woman judge in Lancaster County upon her appointment in 1974.
Jan worked to ensure all are treated with fairness and equity in our legal system and confronted racial, ethnic, and gender discrimination in the courts. Jan dedicated her career to the principle of equal justice and fairness before the law after seeing up close how our system of power kept long-standing barriers in place to many.
She received presidential appointments, with Senate confirmation, to the State Justice Institute Board; and served on the ABA/National Center for State Courts Jury Management Standards Task Force. Jan served on the board of the Nebraska Supreme Court/Nebraska State Bar Association (NSBA) Minority and Justice Task Force, the NSBA Gender Fairness Task Force, and the advisory board for the Nebraska Judicial Cultural Diversity Training Project.
She chaired the 900-member Special Courts Section of the ABA, and was on the faculty and/or planning committees for national judicial conferences on racial and ethnic bias, gender bias in the courts, substance abuse, AIDS, victims’ rights, court delay reduction, and court-related needs of the elderly and persons with disabilities.
She has been honored with distinguished service awards on both the state and national level including the ABA’s Franklin N. Flaschner Award for the nation’s outstanding judge of a court of limited jurisdiction, the National Center for State Court’s Distinguished Service Award, the first recipient of the Nebraska State Bar Association Award for Outstanding Contributions to Women and the Law, and Civic Nebraska’s Defender of Democracy Award. We were honored to recognize Jan with the Jim Wolf Equal Justice Award at the 2014 Good Apple Awards for her lifetime of advocacy for justice and opportunity for all.
Jan’s fight for equal rights and opportunity did not end after her career as a judge concluded. Upon retirement, she gave up her title of retired judge so she could work actively in advocacy efforts. She has lent her voice and time to the fight to fix our outdated immigration system and protect the right to vote for all eligible Nebraska voters, including serving on Civic Nebraska’s Advisory Board and helping run their first nonpartisan election day protection and observation program beginning in 2012.
Along with her late husband John, Jan was an influential presence within the University of Nebraska College of Law serving as both a professor and mentor to countless law students, including many of Nebraska Appleseed’s staff attorneys. She and her husband John taught international comparative law studies at four Chinese universities and were coauthors, with Chinese legal scholars, of an English/ Mandarin text on comparative international criminal procedure published by the Asia Foundation. She was also a trustee of the University of Nebraska Foundation.
We are grateful to have known Jan as a fellow advocate and to have called her a friend.
Should friends desire, memorial contributions may be sent to the John and Jan Gradwohl Access to Justice Scholarship Fund at the University of Nebraska Foundation, 1010 Lincoln Mall, Suite 300, Lincoln, NE 68508; or a social service organization of your choice.