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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:Kimberly Ann Rymer’s landlord originally filed a forcible detainer action against her in justice court seeking eviction and a judgment for nonpayment of rent. The justice court awarded judgment in favor of the landlord against Rymer in the amount of $5,000. Rymer appealed to county court. After two continuances, the case was set for dismissal for lack of prosecution. At the dismissal hearing, Rymer and the landlord agreed that Rymer would vacate the property by Nov. 30, 2004 and the landlord would receive the $1,200 Rymer paid into the registry of the court. Rymer agreed to draft the order and present it to the judge at the next setting. A week before Rymer was to vacate the property, she became ill and called her landlord for permission to extend the time of her move until Dec. 5. The landlord’s secretary gave Rymer permission to move out by Dec. 5. It is unknown whether the landlord was aware of this extension because, according to Rymer, the landlord entered the house prior to Dec. 5 and moved her property from the house to the garage causing thousands of dollars of damage to the property. At the next court setting on Dec. 17, instead of presenting the court with an agreed order of dismissal, Rymer told the judge she could no longer agree to the original terms because her landlord damaged her property. The trial judge expressed her concern to the landlord about his actions and told him, “You can’t do it without a writ. You can’t do self-help. You have to get the constables to do this.” Rymer told the judge she had completely moved out of the landlord’s property and wanted the case dismissed so she could get her money back from the registry of the court. The judge said, “I’m going to dismiss this case today. . . . It’s dismissed. I think it needs to come to an end. . . . The case is dismissed.” But then the landlord asked what would happen to the money in the registry of the court and a discussion ensued between the parties and the judge. The judge asked an attorney who was in the courtroom waiting for his case to be heard to take the parties into the jury room and “mediate with them for a minute, and . . . tell them what’s going on.” After this attempt at mediation, Rymer told the judge she wanted the case dismissed and she would file another lawsuit for property damages. At that point, the landlord told the judge he would agree to dismiss the case and let Rymer keep the money she paid into the registry of the court “to end this entire matter.” At first Rymer agreed. But when she realized by agreeing that she was relinquishing her claim for property damages, she refused to agree. At that point, the judge gave Rymer a choice: keep the money in the court’s registry and relinquish the claim for property damages or keep the claim for property damages and relinquish the money in the court’s registry. The court entered a final judgment stating the parties reached an agreement on the record and that all issues of fact and law were tried to the court. The judgment stated that, after receiving the evidence presented and testimony of the witnesses, the court awarded the landlord immediate and exclusive possession of the house and awarded Rymer $1,200 from the registry of the court. The judgment also stated that Rymer, in consideration for the return of the $1200, “will not pursue any cause of action against [the landlord] for issues involving . . . [Rymer's] personal property resulting from [her eviction].” Rymer filed a motion for new trial in which she also asked the trial judge to recuse herself. Although Rymer argues she was told the motion was filed untimely and no hearing would be set, the judge’s docket sheet reflects the motion was set for hearing and no one appeared. In her motion for new trial, Rymer alleged, among other things, gross misconduct on the part of the judge by turning a dismissal hearing into a trial, by calling in an attorney unrelated to the case to assist in the case, by forcing her into an agreement she was not comfortable with and did not agree with, and that she was denied due process and a fair trial. HOLDING:Reversed and remanded. The judge, the court stated, essentially told Rymer to agree to the landlord’s terms or she would award the landlord the $1,200 instead of Rymer. But, the court stated, there was no evidence in the record to support the trial court’s apparent conclusion that the $1,200 would offset Rymer’s claim for the damage to her property or to award relief to the landlord. The court concluded that the trial judge acted improperly by forcing Rymer to choose between relinquishing the $1,200 she paid into the registry of the court or relinquishing her right to pursue a claim against her landlord for damages to her property. The court further concluded that Rymer showed probable prejudice by having to relinquish a potential claim for property damages against her landlord. OPINION:Lang-Miers, J.; Wright, O’Neill and Lang-Miers, J.J.

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