Tenants deserve a right to a jury trial in eviction cases, ACLU and NAACP argue

By: - October 27, 2022 12:36 pm

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LINCOLN — Renters facing eviction deserve the right to a jury trial, the ACLU of Nebraska and the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP argue in a new  “friend of the court” brief to the Nebraska Supreme Court.

The brief was filed Monday in an appeal of an eviction case out of Omaha in which an apartment owner, NP Dodge Management, sought to evict a tenant, Teresa Holcomb, for violating a clause in her lease about crime free/drug free housing.

NP Dodge maintained that Holcomb had violated that clause by threatening to attack two other residents in a common area.

The two organizations, in their brief, argue that Holcomb deserved to have a jury determine whether her “words of frustration violated the ‘violent criminal acts’ clause of her lease.”

Special issue for women, Blacks

“(That) was a disputed factual issue that she was entitled to have decided by a jury,” her lead attorneys, with Legal Aid of Nebraska and the Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest, wrote.

They added that eviction is “a matter of special importance to women, especially Black women, and their children, as well as people with disabilities.”

“Housing is so much more than just the walls that make up a house or an apartment, it is about security, safety and economic opportunity,” Scout Richters, senior legal and policy counsel at the ACLU of Nebraska,said in a press release.

“Giving Nebraskans the chance to have a jury during eviction proceedings is a step forward on racial justice and gender equity,” Richters added.

South Omaha apartment

Douglas County District Court Judge Michael Coffey had upheld a decision by a county court judge that granted NP Dodge’s request to evict Holcomb from a unit at Eagle Heights Apartments in South Omaha in May 2021.

That prompted the appeal to the Supreme Court.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and later, editing the Papillion Times group in suburban Omaha. He joined the Lincoln Journal-Star as a sports enterprise reporter, and then a roving reporter covering southeast Nebraska. In 1990, he was hired by the Omaha World-Herald as a legislative reporter. Later, for 15 years, he roamed the state covering all kinds of news and feature stories. In the past decade, he served as chief of the Lincoln Bureau and enterprise reporter. Paul has won awards for reporting from Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press, Nebraska Newspaper Association and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.