Will senior stay or go?
GLENWOOD SPRINGS An 80-year-old woman facing eviction from her low-income home in Carbondale is either a demon for the way she treats her neighbors or a victim of retaliation for making waves, the two attorneys squaring off in her trial said Thursday.Lea Cano is trying to prevent the Carbondale Housing Authority from making her surrender her one-bedroom, one-bath apartment at Crystal Meadows. She refused to vacate earlier this year when her lease wasn’t renewed.The housing authority, a nonprofit entity unaffiliated with the Carbondale town government, filed the lawsuit for eviction. The jury trial started Thursday in Garfield County Court in Glenwood Springs before Judge Paul Metzger.Housing authority attorney Tim Whitsitt portrayed Cano as someone who made life miserable for many of the other tenants in the 64-unit complex.”This is a woman you will find has a lot of rage, a lot of anger toward the other tenants,” Whitsitt told the six-member jury in opening arguments.To prove his point, Whitsitt shouted out some obscenities that he claimed Cano has hurled at tenants over the years. He apologized in advance before using phrases such as, “You dirty f—— Mexican,” and “You f—— bitch.”
“Every one of these phrases came out of the lips of Lea Cano,” Whitsitt said.The alleged cussing came into context when Whitsitt called his first witness, Carbondale Housing Authority Executive Director Jerilyn Nieslanik. She said complaints regarding Cano’s behavior started coming in shortly after she moved to Crystal Meadows in the late 1990s.Nieslanik testified that Cano screamed obscenities at a part-time maintenance man, who is Latino, when he used a weed whacker to chop off vegetation she planted outside her garden, in an area residents had been warned wouldn’t be protected.Cano allegedly laid the b-bomb on both Nieslanik and a female tenant of Crystal Meadows at various times. Nieslanik said an accumulation of infractions combined over the years to affect the quality of life for some tenants. The complex was built with a subsidy from the federal government. There are caps on the income of tenants and the rents they pay. The tenants are either elderly or disabled. Some tenants were afraid of Cano and went out of their way to avoid her in the shared laundry or even at the trash bin, Nieslanik testified.Nieslanik said Cano became “unglued” at times and was impossible to work with to solve issues.
“It’s like a cat pouncing on somebody,” Nieslanik said of Cano’s approach. “She’s just ready to get ya.”Whitsitt said he planned to call tenants of Crystal Meadows to the stand to describe their treatment by Cano as the trial progresses.Nieslanik said the board of directors voted in January to terminate Cano’s month-to-month contract. Cano is still in her unit. The outcome of the trial will determine whether she stays.Cano’s attorney, Richard Dally, told the jury there is another side of the story, then he proceeded to paint a completely different picture of his client. He acknowledged that Cano is “not a typical resident” and that she is “verbal.””She doesn’t necessarily march to Ms. Nieslanik’s tune,” Dally said.But Cano will take the stand and vehemently deny cursing her neighbors, according to Dally. He claimed the elderly women who will testify otherwise were being “pressured,” but he didn’t elaborate.
Dally told the jury that Cano has never missed a rent payment in the nine years she has lived at Crystal Meadows. She pays $124 per month. She enjoyed living there for 812 years, he said, but the mood changed six months ago when Cano helped organize a tenants organization to speak up on issues.Two days after she helped organize the tenants organization, Nieslanik served her papers to surrender her apartment, Dally said.”The reason why it started and why we’re here is retribution,” he claimed.Dally told the jury that the testimony will show how “nonsensical this all is” and how “petty” the housing authority is being for seeking such drastic enforcement. The alleged infractions could have easily been tackled outside the legal system, he said.The jury members must ask themselves if a reasonable resolution to the dispute is to toss an 80-year-old woman “out on the street,” Dally said.The trial will resume today and possibly continue Monday.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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