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‘Christmas Lawyer’ who went to war with his HOA is now facing another fight — the Idaho State Bar

An attorney who calls himself the “Christmas Lawyer” and gained international notoriety for staging elaborate holiday programs at his house in defiance of his homeowners association said he’s facing another Grinch — the Idaho State Bar.

“The Idaho State Bar has made it clear they’re going to protect their friends, in this case, a federal judge,” attorney Jeremy Morris told Fox News. “But the problem is, attorneys have the freedom of speech.”

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The bar notified Morris earlier this year that it had found “probable cause to proceed with formal charges” against him after he accused Judge B. Lynn Winmill of corruption and bigotry for overturning his jury verdict.

But Morris’ story began many Christmases past, and it’s hard to tell who’s the Grinch.

Morris has been obsessed with the holiday and accompanying fanfare for as long as his parents can remember. He took over decorating the family’s Los Angeles home as a child in the ’90s, staying up past any reasonable bedtime to string tens of thousands of lights on the roof à la Clark Griswold.

Then, in 2014, when he had a family of his own and was living in Idaho, he repaired an antique cotton candy machine he’d inherited from his grandfather and made it the centerpiece of his 2014 Christmas display. He created a Facebook event and was shocked when hundreds of families showed up to look at lights, sip hot chocolate and meet Santa Claus.

He decided that next year had to be even bigger. The family found what they called their “dream house” just outside the city of Hayden in Kootenai County and put in an offer on New Year’s Eve.

Morris immediately called the president of the neighborhood homeowners association to give them a heads-up about his planned display for the following Christmas.

“I reached out to the HOA and just said, ‘Hey, look, we’re going to do this thing. Maybe you have some ideas. I’m thinking maybe doing shuttles because there aren’t sidewalks. What do you think?'” Morris said. “In a very cordial way.”

The call sparked a legal battle still being waged nearly a decade later.

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In response to Morris’ plans, one West Hayden Estates homeowners association board member drafted a letter that pondered whether neighborhood “atheists” might be offended by the display and worried about “riff-raff” that might be drawn to the neighborhood, noting that the Morris family previously lived near a Walmart.

That version was never sent, but emerged later in court. The official version approved by the HOA president and sent to Morris changed “atheists” to “non-Christians” and “riff-raff” to “possible undesirables.”

The letter also outlined three sections of the covenants, conditions and restrictions they believed his program would violate. They said the magnitude of the event was “well beyond normal residential use,” that noise that is offensive or interferes with the “quiet enjoyment” of any neighbor is prohibited, and that lighting should be “restrained in its design” and avoid “excessive brightness.” The board expressed further concerns over traffic. 

They closed by noting that they didn’t “wish to become entwined in any expensive litigation to enforce long standing rules.”

“I realized if I don’t fight back — and I’m a lawyer, you know — who would?” Morris said. “I was in this position to actually take a stand for Christmas. And that’s why I became the lawyer who basically fought for and saved Christmas.”

Morris started decorating his house with around 700,000 lights months before Christmas. Then the HOA’s lawyer demanded he remove them within 10 days. Morris refused.

“The next thing that happened is this became an international phenomenon,” he said. The spotlight, however, didn’t just happen to fall on him — he contacted Fox News and other outlets with the prime-time tale.

And despite the threat of a lawsuit, the show went on, complete with a live nativity scene, carolers and even a camel. Hired shuttle buses dropped off thousands of revelers — with some families coming from Washington and Canada — over the course of the five-evening event, which raised funds for children’s charities.

But the following year, the feud reached a boiling point, according to Morris. He, along with several attendees, accused neighbors of harassing people near his house. Morris and a bus driver also accused a resentful resident of repeatedly trying to stage an accident when shuttles passed by.

At least two neighbors denied the latter allegation in the 2021 Apple TV+ documentary “‘Twas the Fight Before Christmas.”

Morris said his family received threats, including an in-person confrontation partially caught on camera in which a neighbor offered to “take care of him.” He paints the HOA as a group of liberal atheists who are bigoted against Christians.

The HOA’s current leaders did not respond to a request for comment, but in the Apple documentary, they denied such claims. The original HOA president was married to a pastor. She resigned before the 2015 Christmas show, pushed to the brink of a nervous breakdown from Morris “harassing” her, according to the documentary.

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Neighbors portrayed Morris as a deranged bully who was hostile from the get go, secretly recorded conversations — some of which were later used as evidence — and began fanatically documenting other HOA members’ alleged rule violations.

Morris said he never wanted to take legal action and offered to waive his rights to proceed with a lawsuit if the HOA agreed to leave his family alone. The HOA refused, he said, and the statute of limitations was almost up.

So in January 2017, two years after receiving the first letter from the HOA, he sued, alleging religious discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

“It was ‘Miracle on 34th Street” in the modern era,” Morris said of the trial, which included testimony from Santa Claus.

The jury returned a unanimous decision in his favor and ordered the HOA to pay $75,000.

But the story didn’t end there. In a twist, a federal judge reversed the jury’s verdict and ordered Morris to pay the HOA’s legal fees, to the tune of $111,000.

Judge Winmill concluded the case wasn’t about religious discrimination, but rather the Morris family’s violation of neighborhood rules. Morris failed to provide facts that were a “legally sufficient basis upon which a reasonable jury” could conclude the HOA violated the Fair Housing Act, Winmill wrote.

Winmill said secret recordings Morris made of his neighbors often showed him acting “aggressively confrontational,” in one case threatening to use the HOA code to go after his neighbor’s dogs.

The judge’s order permanently banned the Morris family from holding another Christmas program that violated the HOA rules.

WATCH MORE FOX NEWS DIGITAL ORIGINALS HERE

The Morrises appealed and, in June 2020, their case went before the 9th Circuit. Three and a half years later, they have still not received a decision.

In the meantime, Morris has not masked his thoughts about Winmill, and in late 2021, he filed a judicial misconduct claim, alleging that the judge struck down testimony from the majority of Morris’ witnesses. Winmill also refused to dismiss a juror who admitted to being “prejudiced” in favor of HOA rules and against homeowners, according to court transcripts, though Morris said his attorney eventually used one of their strikes to have the juror removed.

“This particular judge attempted to cancel Christmas,” Morris said. “It’s no different than what King Herod did 2,000 years ago when he tried to stop the very first Christmas.”

Winmill’s staff declined to comment.

And now, enter Morris’ newest foe — the Idaho State Bar.

In January of this year, a bar representative wrote to Morris, asking about several statements he made about Winmill on social media and in the Apple TV documentary — chiefly, calling the judge “corrupt” and a “hateful anti-Christian bigot” who attempted to “rig a jury.”

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Then in August, another Idaho State Bar representative wrote to Morris’ attorney, stating that the bar found “probable cause to proceed with formal charges” under Idaho’s professional conduct rule that prohibits a lawyer making a statement that he knows to be false or “with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge.”

The bar offered to dismiss the disciplinary case if Morris gave up his Idaho legal license, according to correspondence shared with Fox News. Bar counsel noted that Morris has moved out of state and the pending “disciplinary grievance” has affected his ability to gain employment in his new home.

Morris called the offer a “shakedown” comparable to mob tactics.

Officials from the Idaho State Bar declined to confirm whether disciplinary action was still being considered, nor would they answer any other questions from Fox News.

Morris maintains that his corruption accusation is true and that he has a right to express his opinions about Winmill. He points to a case from the 1990s in which an attorney blasted a judge as a “right wing fanatic,” “anti-semitic” and an “ignorant, dishonest, ill-tempered” bully, among other criticisms. The 9th Circuit held that the speech was protected and that the attorney did not commit sanctionable conduct.

“The law says that even as an attorney, I do not lose the freedom of speech in this country to speak about things, particularly about corruption,” Morris said.

Morris isn’t hosting a Christmas extravaganza this year, but recently purchased a large property and is planning an “even bigger, epic display” next year. He said he had “zero” regrets about the way he treated his former neighbors.

“I’m so proud of the stand that I took and the opportunity that I’ve given to people who hate me, who hate my family, who hate my beliefs, to turn the other cheek,” Morris said. “I would do it again.”

Click here to hear more from Morris.

 

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