Scott Sandlin at the Alberquerque Journal reports:
A state District Court judge has ordered the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office to stop transferring seized cash to the federal government without following state procedures — a strategy that had made it easier for the BCSO to take and keep millions of dollars in seized assets.
Second Judicial District Judge Nan Nash, ruling in a civil lawsuit challenging cash forfeitures by the BCSO and former Sheriff Darren White, said in essence that White and BCSO did an end-run around state law by using more lenient federal forfeiture procedures.
She ruled that county law enforcement had not followed the law when it seized cash from individuals and failed to follow the New Mexico Forfeiture Act, which requires the money to be deposited in an interest-bearing account with the District Court clerk.
Instead, BCSO seized the cash and transferred it to the federal government — eventually getting back 80 percent of it — or held it in an “evidence” account, even though it wasn’t always used as evidence.
The ruling came in a 2006 class-action lawsuit filed by attorneys Shannon and Joseph Kennedy.
Joseph Kennedy estimates damages in the BCSO lawsuit to be as much as $3 million.
He hailed the ruling as a “great victory for the rule of law … that even sheriffs have to follow the law.”
“It’s sad,” he said, “that the court has to order law enforcement officers to obey straightforward, mandatory direction from the state Legislature. BCSO purchased helicopters, cars and crime labs on the backs of the poorest of the poor — folks who could not afford to retain an attorney and whose individual claims did not allow an attorney to work on contingency.”
The Las Cruces Sun-News has more, here.
Joseph Kennedy, the attorney with the Kennedy law firm involved in this litigation, is profiled here. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of 400+ citizens who were never convicted of a crime yet had their property taken from them.