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Opening Arguments

Business as usual

A little quiet corruption (Shhh! We wouldn't want to upset anybody) apparently accepted as "business as usual" throughout the Indiana legal system: Civil asset forfeiture is, at best, a morally questionable practice by authorities in seizing the property of people not even convicted of a crime (who then find it almost impossible to get their property back even if they're cleared). In an effort to discourage abuse of the practice by police and prosecutors who benefit by being able to keep the assets, Indiana became one of several states requiring civil asset forfeitures to got to a fund for public schools. The only problem is that the requirement is routinely ignored:

  • Of Indiana's 92 counties, just five have paid any forfeiture money into the school fund over the last two years. Three of those made just one payment. One county made a single payment of $84.50. Only one county could arguably be seen as complying with the law: Wayne County made 18 payments totalling $38,835.56.
  • The total amount of forfeiture money paid into the account from all 92 Indiana counties over the two-year period was just $95,509.72.
  • To put that figure into perspective, Ogden notes that attorney Christopher Gambill—the private attorney who, as I noted in my article, handles civil forfeiture cases for three Indiana counties and argued the case for Putnam County to keep Anthony Smelley's money—made $113,145.67 in contingency fees off just a single forfeiture case.
  • Contracting out the cases to private attorneys is almostly certainly unconstitutional -- unelected people are making public policy decisions and profiting from them, and some of them have accumulated fortunes. But "It's just sort of accepted here that this the way things are" and "It's apparent that prosecutors and judges in Indiana know they're gaming the system."

    Good, meaty stuff -- read the whole thing. From Ogden on Politics via hit & run. The Indianapolis Star also had a front-page piece, but "in an apparent effort to keep the paper as irrelevant as possible, the Star has lately adopted a policy of not putting its most important pieces online."


    Wed, 08/18/2010 - 7:57am

    That's an interesting story. Since Allen County isn't on the list of those paying into the school fund, I wonder how forfeiture cases are handled here?

    Someday maybe a news organization will open in this area and report on this. I'm still hoping that new stadium will be a catalyst for the creation of reporters and newspapers, and not merely a magnet for young, urban-dwelling, high-tech movers and shakers. Perhaps the City could hire a consultant to look into this,,,