Facing his second legal setback in a month, an Omaha landlord wearing orange jail scrubs and ankle cuffs stood before the judge Thursday and argued on his own behalf.
First, Paul John Hansen told Douglas County Judge Craig McDermott that he was “native-born of the Land of Nebraska” but was not a U.S. citizen nor a resident of Douglas County or the State of Nebraska.
“I challenge the court's jurisdiction over me,” said Hansen, who has a long history of run-ins with city housing inspectors over his more than a dozen properties.
Hansen is infamous at the courthouse for the extreme property-rights views he articulates in numerous court documents and before judges. Though not an attorney, he typically represents himself in court.
Hansen is currently in jail on a separate property-related conviction.
Last month, he lost a fair housing case in federal court. He has been ordered to pay nearly $84,000 in damages and attorney fees to one of his former tenants, a man with schizophrenia who lived in Hansen's apartments for five years. Hansen got himself listed as payee for the tenant's monthly Social Security disability check of $607 to $637. Hansen “occasionally returned $40 to (the tenant) upon which to subsist,” the suit said.
On Thursday, he faced 18 misdemeanor counts, most of them housing code violations related to five north Omaha properties. Assistant City Prosecutor Marcela Keim said the violations presented “a health and safety risk to the community.”
Hansen argued that he'd been “taken by force off the native land” and could neither address the city's outstanding complaints about properties nor adequately defend himself in court. He said the city was targeted him unfairly and putting good properties on the demolition list.
Then he added this alleged injustice — he felt he was unfairly punished by a law enforcement officer for not agreeing that his name was Paul Hansen. He calls himself “Paul John of the family Hansen.”
“Are we in a police state?” he asked the judge.
McDermott let Hansen speak for more than 20 minutes and allowed him to present witnesses on his behalf. They included Devin Santo, a one-time political candidate in north Omaha, who said he didn't know the full details but thought Hansen's arguments were “legally sound.”
McDermott: “Are you a lawyer?”
Santo: “No, sir.”
A thick city prosecutor's file detailed city code violations at five north Omaha properties: 2804 Ruggles St., 3212 Franklin St., 3202 Seward St., 3804 N. 19th St. and 3213 N. 24th St.
Four code inspectors watching the sentencing could have added their own eyewitness accounts. Two talked quietly about additional citations planned.
These are for properties that are among 10 Hansen properties that the city is investigating. Douglas County records show that Hansen owns 15 properties.
The judge turned to Hansen and repeated a word Hansen had used — “travesty” — and said he disagreed. “I think it's just sad,” McDermott said.
Then he sentenced Hansen to nearly a year in jail: 180 days for 14 different housing code violations, the sentences on each to be served concurrently; then another 180 days apiece for one count of giving false information, one count of resisting arrest and two counts of obstructing the administration of the law, the sentences also to be served concurrently.
Hansen is expected to appeal.
World-Herald staff writer Karyn Spencer contributed to this report.
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