PRESS RELEASE: Nebraskans have constitutional right to jury in eviction court proceedings, Supreme Court appeal argues

***For Immediate Release***
January 11, 2023

Contacts:
Sierra Salgado Pirigyi
Communications Director, Nebraska Appleseed
O: (402) 438-8853 x 116
sierrasp@neappleseed.org

Scott Mertz
Housing Justice Project Director, Legal Aid of Nebraska
O: (402) 348-1069 x 206
smertz@legalaidofnebraska.org

Nebraskans have constitutional right to jury in eviction court proceedings, Supreme Court appeal argues

LINCOLN, Neb. – Nebraska Supreme Court arguments began today in the case of NP Dodge Management Company v. Teresa Holcomb, a landmark case that will decide whether Nebraskans who are being evicted have a constitutional right to a jury trial.

Teresa Holcomb, the tenant in the case, is being jointly represented by Caitlin Cedfeldt of Legal Aid of Nebraska and Kasey Ogle of Nebraska Appleseed.

“Eviction court proceedings are a legal process unlike any other,” says Ogle, Senior Staff Attorney for Collective Impact Lincoln, a partnership between Appleseed and Civic Nebraska. “It’s an extremely fast process that deprives tenants of a legitimate opportunity to raise a defense.”

Ensuring jury trials in Nebraska eviction courts would create a fair chance for tenants in the courtroom to present a meaningful defense before potentially losing their homes. The right to a jury trial would also be constitutionally guaranteed, according to Ogle.

“Evictions are actions for which people did have the right to a jury trial when our state constitution was enacted. Since that right existed when the constitution was ratified, it should still exist today.”

The existing tenant eviction process is not just a pandemic-related issue, both attorneys also point out.

“There was a lot of talk about the eviction process when the pandemic began, but this has been – and will continue to be – an issue throughout the state regardless of the pandemic,” says Cedfeldt, Housing Justice Project Attorney for Legal Aid. “The current process for eviction is extremely streamlined and one-sided. All Nebraskans deserve access to a fair process when faced with being forcefully removed from their homes.”

Legal Aid of Nebraska’s data shows that individuals and families are more likely to remain housed when they have legal representation, saving communities millions of dollars every year.

“We have seen time and time again through our work, not just in eviction court but civil proceedings as a whole, that access to an attorney changes lives and provides hope and opportunity. While the crux of this case is about the right to a jury trial, on a deeper level, it’s also about the critical need for legal representation. Without it, low-income tenants cannot possibly navigate our complicated legal system and assert their rights, including the right to a jury trial. This case has the ability to move us closer to a more just legal system, upholding the state of Nebraska’s motto of equality before the law,” states Laurie Heer Dale, Legal Aid of Nebraska Executive Director.

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Legal Aid of Nebraska promotes justice, dignity, hope and self-sufficiency through quality civil legal aid for those who have nowhere else to turn. Learn more at legalaidofnebraska.org.

Nebraska Appleseed fights for justice and opportunity for all Nebraskans. Learn more at neappleseed.org.

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