Former Portland mayor Ethan Strimling appears in court during an eviction trial at the Cumberland County Courthouse on Tuesday, April 12, 2022. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

But Strimling’s attorney, Scott Dolan, filed an appeal to the Maine Superior Court on Tuesday challenging District Court Justice Susan Oram’s decision. Her ruling had centered its argument around Rice’s notice of non-renewal to Strimling in May 2021 rather than a more relevant eviction order in August, Dolan said.

Rice never wavered from his commitment to stop renting to Strimling, who co-writes a column for the Bangor Daily News, after issuing the non-renewal in May, he said in court. However, Strimling continued to live in the Congress Street apartment afterwards, with Rice’s office taking two further rent payments before the landlord issued an eviction notice in August.

The Trelawny Tenants Union that Strimling helped organize reported Rice to the city for illegal rent practices in June. That fact has made timing essential to the retaliation case.

Rice’s attorney, David Chamberlain, had no comment on the appeal when reached at his Portland law office on Wednesday morning. 

Chamberlain argued in court that Rice’s decision to evict Strimling was about his actions as a tenant, including violating a lease policy on open windows during the cold months and resisting rent increases Rice saw as marginal.

Oram’s district court ruling largely agreed with that argument. Dolan said shortly after it was issued last week that an appeal was likely. 

Dolan is seeking a jury trial for the case. He has also filed a motion to stay Strimling’s eviction during the appeal process.

There were also disputes over facts relevant to the case, Dolan said, including the reason why Rice scheduled a meeting with Strimling on May 25 in which he would serve him a notice of non-renewal. 

How heavily the activities of the Trelawny Tenants Union were discussed in that meeting is also under dispute, Dolan said. Testimony from Strimling, Rice and one of Rice’s attorneys, Paul Bulger, differed on that point.

“The factual issue of what was said at that meeting is crucial evidence that goes to the heart of the merits of this case as it concerns Mr. Rice’s reason for initially seeking to evict Mr. Strimling, the appeal read. 

Dolan also disputed Oram’s statement that Strimling did not play a leading role in the union’s communications with Portland officials.