Aspen woman ordered to leave apartment
ASPEN – An Aspen woman will have to find another place to live after a district judge Friday rejected her claim that sexual discrimination was the driving force behind her eviction.
Judge Daniel Petre, after listening to several hours of trial testimony in Pitkin County District Court, ordered Jan Hamilton, 69, to leave the East Hopkins Avenue apartment in which she has resided since last June.
Hamilton alleged that landlord Paula Nirschel was prompted to evict her after reading a May 2010 Aspen Times Weekly article that focused on Hamilton’s litigious behavior fueled by accusations that local residents and churchgoers have it out for her because she is a lesbian.
Petre rejected that claim, saying Hamilton’s relentless legal efforts over discrimination based on sexual orientation “undermine” the legitimate campaigns waged for civil rights.
“Any one who crosses Mrs. Hamilton in any way is accused of discrimination in a suit,” the judge said.
He added: “The only person who raises the fact that Dr. Hamilton is a lesbian, is Dr. Hamilton.”
Hamilton, a nutritionist, made other allegations against Nirschel as well, testifying that her landlord is guilty of second-degree murder because her eviction efforts caused Hamilton to get a bleeding ulcer, which has escalated to life-threatening stomach cancer. Hamilton also likened herself to Rosa Parks, adding that “I just want to try to bring peace and harmony to an uncomfortable situation.”
Nirschel’s attorney Sarah Oates kept the argument simple: Hamilton, she said, continued to inhabit the apartment after the lease expired and in spite of an eviction notice filed against her in December.
Petre agreed, saying that regardless of Hamilton’s claims, she had resided in the apartment past the terms of the lease, which expired Dec. 15. Nirschel, who also lives in New York and runs a nonprofit organization that brings Afghan women to the U.S. so they can obtain a college degree, testified that she had tried to evict Hamilton earlier last year, but was afraid that she would be sued by Hamilton. She then hired Oates, who launched the recent eviction efforts.
Hamilton, however, would not leave the apartment, even offering to pay rent. Nirschel said she refused to accept payment, feeling that if she took Hamilton’s money it would legitimize her tenancy.
Judge Petre suggested that while it’s Hamilton’s right to access the court system, she also “has to appreciate there are consequences” for her bid to “use the legal system as a weapon.”
The judge’s ruling came two days after Hamilton was arrested on 13 felony counts connected to extortion, attempted extortion and stalking.
Authorities say she sent threatening e-mails she sent to Crossroads Church pastor Steve Woodrow and some of his congregation members, whom she allegedly threatened to sue if he did not serve as a witness in Friday’s trial.
Woodrow told authorities that over the last six years he has received up to 10 emails a week from Hamilton, police said.
The judge allowed Hamilton, who has accused Crossroads Church of exiling her because she is a lesbian, not to testify about the emails given the potential for self incrimination. Even so, Hamilton insisted, while on the stand, that she did not commit extortion.
Still pending in the eviction lawsuit is Hamilton’s counterclaim for $1 million because of sexual discrimination. Petre encouraged both sides to try settle the issue out of court instead of going to trial. A status conference is set within the next 30 days.
In the meantime, Petre implored Hamilton to make a “graceful withdraw from the property.” The judge said he will sign an order today instructing Hamilton to vacate the premises this week.
Editor’s note: The writer of this article was subpoenaed by Hamilton to testify as a witness in the eviction trial, but the judge quashed the subpoena based on shield laws that protect the press from testifying, and that the Aspen Times Weekly article Hamilton claims led to her eviction was “self-authenticating.” The judge also quashed other subpoenas filed by Hamilton, including one that sought the testimony of pastor Steve Woodrow of Crossroads Church.
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