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‘Christmas Lawyer’ eyes Supreme Court review in battle with HOA over holiday light show

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‘Christmas Lawyer’ eyes Supreme Court review in battle with HOA over holiday light show

The battle between a man who orchestrated massive Christmas extravaganzas and his former homeowners association could be appealed to the Supreme Court after a lower court issued its long-awaited ruling.

“It was made clear that a jury could find … that there was a hostile atmosphere created, that our family was discriminated against,” Jeremy Morris told Fox News Digital of the ruling.

Morris, an attorney, became popularly referred to as the “Christmas Lawyer” after gaining international notoriety for throwing a five-day holiday light show that drew thousands of revelers to his former home just outside of Hayden, Idaho.

In 2017, a jury unanimously agreed that his HOA discriminated against him on the basis of religion by trying to stop his Christmas show. But in a stunning twist, a federal judge reversed that verdict and ordered Morris to pay the HOA more than $111,000 in legal fees.

Jeremy Morris gained international fame after his former homeowners association tried to stop him from putting on an extravagant Christmas celebration at his family’s house. Almost a decade later, the ensuing court battle still isn’t over.  (Courtesy Jeremy Morris)

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‘CHRISTMAS LAWYER’ WHO WENT TO WAR WITH HIS HOA IS NOW FACING ANOTHER FIGHT — THE IDAHO STATE BAR

Morris challenged the ruling in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard arguments in June 2020. Four years later, a three-judge panel ruled in the HOA’s favor in part and in Morris’ favor in part, teeing the case up for a new jury trial.

But Morris said he is “absolutely” considering appealing to the Supreme Court first.

How the Christmas light fight began

Morris made an offer on his house just after throwing his inaugural light show at his previous home over Christmas 2014.

He informed the West Hayden Estates homeowners association that he planned to repeat the event and the HOA immediately tried to squash the Christmas display, arguing it would likely violate three sections of the community’s covenants, conditions and restrictions. The event would be too big, too noisy and too bright, the board wrote in a letter sent to Morris in January 2015.

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Crucially, the letter also pondered whether “non-Christians” would be bothered by the display and expressed concerns that the show would draw “possible undesirables” to the neighborhood.

Morris wrote back, arguing that there was nothing applicable to his event in the CC&Rs and that the board was engaging in religious discrimination. His family closed on the house and moved in.

Torn paper showing portion of final HOA letter

The HOA board sent this letter to Jeremy Morris in January 2015, outlining rules they believed his Christmas display would violate and worrying that residents who were “non-Christians” might object to the program. ( )

HOA HORROR STORIES: GEORGIA HOMEOWNERS SHARE NIGHTMARISH LEGAL BRAWLS

When Morris started decking his house with around 200,000 individual lights that fall, the HOA’s attorney sent him a letter threatening legal action if he hosted the event without approval from the board.

The show went on anyway. Costumed characters, musicians, a children’s choir, a live nativity scene and even a camel greeted spectators. Morris rented shuttle buses to carry visitors to the event, and volunteers directed cars through the streets around the house, according to court documents.

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Tensions grew leading up to the Morris family’s next show. Neighbors were accused of harassing spectators. A bus driver said one resentful resident repeatedly tried to stage an accident when shuttles passed by. Morris said his family received threats, including an in-person confrontation partially caught on camera in which a neighbor offered to “take care of him.”

Morris previously told Fox News Digital that he didn’t want to take legal action and that he offered to waive his rights to proceed with a lawsuit if the HOA agreed to leave his family alone. The HOA refused, he said, and the statute of limitations was almost up on the original letter.

Jury unanimously sided with Morris in discrimination lawsuit, but judge flipped the verdict

Morris sued in January 2017, alleging religious discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act. A jury unanimously sided with him and ordered the HOA to pay $75,000. 

But Judge B. Lynn Winmill took the unusual step of flipping the verdict and ordering Morris to pay the HOA’s legal fees, concluding the case wasn’t about religious discrimination, but rather the Morris family’s violation of neighborhood rules.

Jeremy Morris takes selfie on roof with glowing lights behind him

Jeremy Morris’ legal fight with his HOA was the subject of a 2021 Apple TV+ documentary “‘Twas the Fight Before Christmas.” He’s also seeking an agent for his book about the experience. (Courtesy Jeremy Morris)

‘STOP THE NONSENSE’: LAWMAKERS IN ONE STATE MOVE TO GIVE HOMEOWNERS MORE RIGHTS IN HOA DISPUTES

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The judge’s order also permanently banned the Morris family from holding another Christmas program that violated the HOA rules, now a moot point since they have moved out of Idaho.

The Morris family appealed, and in June 2020, their case went before the 9th Circuit.

9th Circuit Court of Appeals says letter didn’t break the law, but that HOA may have created a hostile environment

Now, four years later, a three-judge panel affirmed Winmill’s overturning of the jury verdict, concluding that a reasonable jury should not have found the HOA letter from 2015 indicated a preference that a “non-religious individual” buy the Morrises’ home.

But the panel also found that there was enough evidence supporting the jury’s conclusion that the HOA board’s “conduct was motivated at least in part by the Morrises’ religious expression,” according to the more than 100-page ruling.

The panel’s decision was split, with a lengthy dissent from Judge Daniel P. Collins, who suggested the HOA’s behavior was more consistent with making the Morris family “unwelcome” than with enforcing rules. Collins suggested that the board’s action also contributed to harassment toward the Morrises by other residents, physical confrontations and a death threat.

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The HOA “categorically denies it interfered with the Morrises’ right to purchase and enjoy their home free from discrimination” and “has always strived to foster an inclusive and welcoming environment for all residents,” its attorney, Peter Smith, wrote in an email to Fox News Digital.

“We look forward to the opportunity to demonstrate in court that the Association acted legally,” Smith continued. “We are confident that the legal proceedings will ultimately vindicate the Association and show that it has not created a hostile neighborhood for the Morrises.”

WATCH MORE FOX NEWS DIGITAL ORIGINALS HERE

“We can retry the case … and I do believe that we would win as we did before,” Morris told Fox News Digital.

But he said the 9th Circuit’s ruling regarding the letter sets a concerning precedent and suggested the outcome would have been different if “non-Christian” was replaced with any other faith.

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“If we were to strictly interpret this decision, people of any faith can be discriminated against. You can admit that you’re discriminating against them,” he said. “We all know that no court would do that, but a court just made it clear you can do that to a Christian.”

He added that, “Christians are no longer in the United States given the same property rights as other people.” 

The Supreme Court is asked to review more than 7,000 cases each year and usually agrees to hear fewer than 100.

Carolers sing with Santa outside house with Christmas lights

Thousands of people are estimated to have attended the 2015 and 2016 Christmas light displays at Morris’ home near Hayden, Idaho. Morris said the shows ran for a couple of hours on five nights each December. (Courtesy Jeremy Morris)

Separate suit planned against Idaho State Bar

Morris also told Fox News Digital he is moving to sue the Idaho State Bar for an alleged “shakedown” last year, which he compared to mob tactics.

Representatives of the Idaho State Bar scrutinized comments Morris made about the judge who overturned his case — including that he was “corrupt” and an “anti-Christian bigot” who attempted to “rig a jury.”

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The bar threatened to pursue disciplinary charges under Idaho’s professional conduct rules, but offered to dismiss the case if Morris gave up his Idaho legal license, according to correspondence shared with Fox News. Bar counsel noted that Morris has moved out of state and the pending “disciplinary grievance” has affected his ability to gain employment in his new home.

Morris says he has notified the bar that he plans to sue for $10 million.

A representative of the Idaho State Bar declined to comment on potential litigation. The spokesperson also declined to comment on Morris’ possible disciplinary actions other than to say that no formal case has been filed.

Ramiro Vargas contributed to the accompanying video.

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San Francisco, CA

SF voters react to Pres. Biden's prime-time address: 'Huge moment in American politics'

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SF voters react to Pres. Biden's prime-time address: 'Huge moment in American politics'


SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — Dozens gathered at Manny’s in San Francisco Wednesday eager to watch President Joe Biden’s historic address to the nation.

The highly anticipated event saw the President explain his decision to no longer run for reelection in November, as well as what his plans were for the rest of his time in office.

“This is the first time since 1968 that a sitting president has chosen not to run for reelection. A huge moment in American politics,” said Manny’s owner, Manny Yekutiel.

During the speech, Biden highlighted his most valued accomplishments over the last four years, and highlighted the need to continue to unite the country.

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His message resonating with viewers like Lily Lamboy, who says she became emotional watching the President speak.

VIDEO: Biden on decision to exit 2024 race: ‘I revere this office. But I love this country more’

President Joe Biden on Wednesday delivered a solemn call to voters to defend the country’s democracy as he laid out in an Oval Office address his decision to drop his bid for reele

“I actually think I walled off a lot of my feelings and emotions around politics because I felt so hopeless over the last few weeks,” Lamboy said.

Biden also taking time to note the importance of passing on leadership to the next generation, namely Vice President Kamala Harris.

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Harris remains the presumptive Democratic nominee to take on former President Donald Trump in this year’s election.

“To have someone who’s going to be better able to get out on the campaign trail, who’s going to be better able to speak to the issues, how they affect working class people, people of color,” said Carolyn Wysinger.

Wysinger says she also was impressed by Biden’s speech.

TIMELINE: The 24 days that turned the 2024 presidential election upside down

She says, as a Black woman, seeing herself represented in the Vice President has been inspiring.

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“There was just so much excitement around Kamala that everyone wanted to be a part of it. And I’m hearing so many different stories about women who are running in down ballot situations and their fundraising has spiked, their visibility has spiked,” Wysinger said.

And while Biden’s term won’t end until January, for many here – Wednesday’s address felt like saying goodbye.

“That’s all we can hope for is that we serve our country, we do our absolute best. And when we’re in our 80s we get to have some time with our families to enjoy our lives,” said Lamboy.

Democratic delegates will formally choose their candidate for the election at their convention next month.

Copyright © 2024 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.

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Denver, CO

Denver area events for July 25

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Denver area events for July 25


If you have an event taking place in the Denver area, email information to carlotta.olson@gazette.com at least two weeks in advance. All events are listed in the calendar on space availability.

Thursday

Music in the Gardens — With Mark Oblinger, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., 17th Street Gardens, 1945 17th St., Denver; cpvmd.org/17thstgarden-events.

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Discovery Park Summer Concerts — With Foggy Memory Boys, 6-8:30 p.m., Discovery Park, 20115 Mainstreet, Parker; parkerarts.org.

Summer Session — Ron Beatz at 7 p.m., Brown Liquor at 9 p.m., Larimer Lounge, 2721 Larimer St., Denver; larimerlounge.com.

“Friends in Mile High Places” — Parker Players sketch comedy revue, 7:30-9 p.m., The Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo St., Denver, $20-$25. Tickets: tinyurl.com/yaxe664h.

SunSet Series: Eric Luba DJ Set — 7:30-10 p.m., BurnDown, 476 S. Broadway, Denver; burndowndenver.com.

Wyatt Flores — With Noeline Hofmann, 8 p.m., Mission Ballroom, 4242 Wynkoop St., Denver, $25 and up. Tickets: axs.com.

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Anna Moss & the Nightshades and Mama Magnolia — With Sound of Honey, 8 p.m., Cervantes’ Other Side, 2635 Welton St., Denver, $20. Tickets: cervantesmasterpiece.com.

Melissa Carper — With Lonesome Heroes, 8 p.m., Globe Hall, 4483 Logan St., Denver, $19. Tickets: globehall.com.

Bleed Moxie – Women’s Society Album Release Show — 8 p.m., HQ, 60 S. Broadway, Denver, $10. Tickets: hqdenver.com.

Helleborus — With Ashes for the Mute, Lacerated & Ob Nixilis, 8 p.m., Lost Lake Lounge, 3602 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, $15. Tickets: lost-lake.com. 

Gabriel Gravagno Trio – Tribute to Paul Motian — 10 p.m., Dazzle at Baur’s, 1080 14th St., Denver, go online for prices. Tickets: dazzledenver.com/#/events.

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“American Dreams” Exhibit — Through Dec. 31, Molly Brown House Museum, 1340 Pennsylvania St., Denver, go online for prices. Tickets: mollybrown.org.

Thursday-Saturday

Leslie Lioa — 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 9:45 p.m. July 26-27, Comedy Works Downtown in Larimer Square, 1226 15th St., Denver, $25-$35. Tickets: comedyworks.com.

CARLOTTA OLSON, The Denver Gazette



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Seattle, WA

Seattle mayor proposes sending some misdemeanor offenders to Des Moines jail

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Seattle mayor proposes sending some misdemeanor offenders to Des Moines jail


Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell has proposed a plan to send some misdemeanor offenders in Seattle to South Correctional Entity (SCORE) in Des Moines.

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According to a press release from the Mayor’s office, this pilot program would use 20 beds at SCORE which would cost between $1.5 to $3 million per year, allowing the City of Seattle to “more consistently book individuals who have engaged in misdemeanor criminal offenses”

Though SCORE would temporarily hold misdemeanor offenders for 24–48 hours under this Interlocal Agreement, groups like SEIU 925 are concerned about how people would get to SCORE and what happens to them at the facility.

“Our biggest fear is that our attorneys will not be able to access our clients and our clients will not be able to appear appropriately in court to have their cases adjudicated,” said Molly Gilbert, Chapter President of the union representing King County Public Defenders under SEIU 925.

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When King County had a deal with SCORE, Gilbert says SCORE turned away social workers, attorneys trying to visit defendants and defense experts who tried to conduct evaluations.

“We had internet issues and then getting clients to court was a constant problem as well.” said Gilbert. “We had problems with in-person visits and remote visits, and we never found a solution before the county canceled its contract.”

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Gilbert says concerns were raised over deaths that happened while King County used SCORE.

“There had been deaths that had not been reported to the county during the county’s contract with SCORE,” said Gilbert. “Additionally, it didn’t appear that SCORE was following the DOH and RCWs on how to report these unexpected fatalities, there were no reports submitted to the state and there were no public announcements of those deaths as well.”

Gilbert doesn’t believe Mayor Harrell’s agreement would work for Seattle Municipal Court, citing concerns with transportation and for clients held at SCORE that would potentially be released outside the facility.

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“In the Seattle Municipal Court system, many of the people being arrested are homeless, so we are removing them entirely from the city where they live and removing them from a lot of the support services that they access,” said Gilbert.

Gilbert believes Seattle Municipal Court judges need to speak up about whether courtrooms can operate with people being sent to SCORE and that more analysis needs to be done on what happens after people are booked into SCORE.

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According to Mayor Harrell’s office:

“The City will continuously assess the effectiveness of this program and reserves the right to terminate this program if it does not meet the needs and expectations of the City. SCORE jail beds used this year would be paid for with underspend from the King County jail contract and in 2025 would be paid for as part of the City’s general fund.”

For now, Mayor Harrell’s office says his legislation will be sent to City Council for approval, but it won’t go into effect until operational issues are addressed, and the City officially notifies SCORE.

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