With the Idaho Supreme Court lifting its reduction in court services and building access orders, and without a moratorium on evictions from state or local authorities, eviction proceedings are set to move forward in Ada County once more.
The hearings, however, will almost certainly be held remotely, as per an order from the Idaho Supreme Court, which allowed for a variety of types of court proceedings to resume, effective Friday, May 1.
Jeremy Woodson, spokesman for the ACLU of Idaho, confirmed he knew of more than 30 eviction hearings set to take place next week. Administrative District Judge Melissa Moody, of the 4th Judicial District, confirmed eviction proceedings will be moving forward.
She said it doesn’t mean life at the Ada County Courthouse will return to normal.
“We have more hearings as of today, but that doesn’t make the physical building more accessible,” Moody told the Idaho Press on Friday. “The (Idaho) Supreme Court says that these hearings need to be held remotely unless the judge makes a specific finding that there is a need to do the hearings in person.”
The Ada County Trial Court Administrator’s Office is reaching out to everyone who has court dates set within the next two weeks to explain how they can participate by phone or video. That includes people who have hearings scheduled in eviction proceedings.
That's despite information on the Ada County Clerk's website, which says evictions "will be filed, scheduled and heard as normal. If you have a hearing, you will be allowed to enter the building."
Asked about the discrepancy, Elizabeth Duncan, spokeswoman for the county, wrote in a Saturday text message that she "would defer to what Judge Moody said."
Eviction prevention nonprofit Jesse Tree of Idaho is getting calls from 20 to 30 new families a day in need of rental assistance. Executive Director Ali Rabe said every household that calls in answers a series of questions and is given assistance based on need, with the highest-need households given assistance first. The need is far outpacing the nonprofit's funds even with recent infusions of donations from private individuals and local governments.
Rabe said the organization is currently providing rental assistance for 50 to 60 households a month and supportive services for roughly 100 households.
“We want to set people up for success, but right now that is a little bit of a challenge with employment, and getting people connected to unemployment benefits has been a challenge,” Rabe said. “A lot of folks are having trouble getting through to unemployment, so that is the biggest challenge for our case managers right now. It’s getting people to a place where they are financially independent and able to pay rent next month.”
Boise Mayor Lauren McLean on Thursday said she would not be invoking police powers to stop evictions and is instead looking to the state to take action.
“I continue to believe that the state could take the steps to protect renters from eviction without invoking police powers is the proper way to go about this, but I believe now that the court is reopening it becomes even more important that our city and legal department work with the courts to determine if there is an appropriate path forward,” she said.
Over the course of the outbreak of the new coronavirus in Idaho, Gov. Brad Little has not taken steps to limit evictions throughout the state as governors in other states have done. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, for instance, in a Thursday executive order, outlawed evictions for 30 days, according to the Colorado Sun. That decision came after weeks of pressure by tenant advocates.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee issued a statewide moratorium on evictions in March, and in April he temporarily froze hikes on rent, according to the Seattle Times.
The Texas Supreme Court on Monday extended that state's moratorium on evictions through May 18, according to the court's order.
Marissa Morrison Hyer, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office, did not return an email from the Idaho Press on Friday seeking more information.
For now, the Ada County Trial Court Administrator’s Office is taking things slowly. Calling each person who has a court date to explain how to appear by phone or video is a temporary solution, Moody said, but it’s still a heavy workload for employees. She asks people who have court dates more than two weeks away to refrain from trying to contact the office.
A moratorium remains in place for evictions involving properties covered by federally backed mortgages. It is set to last until Aug. 23. Thus, employees of the court administrator's office also ask landlords if their properties fall into this category, Moody said.
Failing to appear to a remote court hearing can still result in being held in contempt of court, and a judge can still issue a failure to appear warrant for a person’s arrest, she confirmed.