From Heather Gillers in today’s Indianapolis Star:
State Attorney General Greg Zoeller announced Tuesday he will “zealously” defend 78 county prosecutors against a lawsuit alleging the prosecutors are holding on to seized assets meant for a state school fund.
The suit, which was filed by an Indianapolis law firm in Marion Superior Court, seeks repayment of two years’ worth of money the firm thinks is owed to Indiana’s Common School Fund, and to clarify how much of that money prosecutors are allowed to keep.
Radley Balko, senior editor at Reason Magazine, had this to say on the subject late last month:
In March the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public-interest law firm, praised Indiana for curbing asset forfeiture abuses by assigning proceeds from seized property to the state’s public schools instead of law enforcement agencies. But according to Indiana attorney Paul Ogden and The Indianapolis Star, only one of Indiana’s 92 counties made any significant payments into the school fund from August 2008 to July 2010. That’s because, as I reported in Reason last February and in a follow-up column in August, Indiana prosecutors have found several ways to get around the rule. And instead of cracking down on these evasive maneuvers, the state’s attorney general is defending them, while the state legislature may codify prosecutors’ current practice of keeping the money that is officially earmarked for schools.
One popular way Indiana prosecutors have avoided contributing to the school fund is to contract outcivil forfeiture cases to private attorneys, who get to keep a quarter to a third of what they win in court. If there are incentive problems with letting police departments and district attorneys’ offices keep forfeiture proceeds, those problems are magnified several times by allowing private attorneys to get paid directly from the forfeiture cases they bring on behalf of local governments. Forfeiture experts I’ve spoken with say the practice almost certainly violates the Constitution’s Due Process Clause, since the people making decisions about these cases get a direct financial benefit from those decisions.
The Star recently reported that private attorney Christopher Gambill—who handles forfeiture cases for several western Indiana counties, including Putnam County, which brought the case that was the focus of my Reason feature—once made $113,146 from a single forfeiture case. That’s more than all 92 Indiana counties paid into the school fund during the two-year period examined by Ogden and the Star. Yet it’s a pittance compared to the $627,525 radio talk show host and celebrity attorney Greg Garrison earned by representing Madison County in a gambling forfeiture. In another case, a judge recentlyreprimanded Mark McKinney for earning commissions as Delaware County’s private, contracted attorney in civil forfeiture cases while also serving as the county’s prosecutor.
We’ve covered these issues previously, particularly Mark McKinney’s flagrant misconduct and abuse of power. It is amazing to me that this misconduct can be so widespread, yet garner only tepid responses from legislators at best; at worst, the legislators seek to protect the prosecutors and law enforcement agencies that have gamed the system for so long.
It’s time for Indiana voters to begin holding their public officials accountable for their decisions to legalize official crimes and wanton misconduct. Where is Presidential hopeful Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels on this issue?