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Prosecutors v. Commissioners

On August 18, 2011, in Uncategorized, by John Payne

This is a relatively strange story out of Hollywood, Maryland:

Negotiations that have been going on for the better part of a year to include the county, sheriff’s and state’s attorney’s office in dealing with assets seized in drug raids have apparently fallen apart, with chief prosecutor Richard Fritz refusing to continue with those cases after county government did not provide more money for an attorney in his office to take on the extra responsibility…

The Board of County Commissioners, less one dissenting vote, approved a plan Tuesday that would have the County Attorney’s office handle the proceedings from now on.

Commissioner Larry Jarboe (R-Golden Beach) said that the county’s refusal to put up more money for prosecutors to deal with asset forfeitures put the onus squarely on them, but that could be a good thing when it came to whether to pursue a case or not.

He pointed to a property in Callaway that was part of a drug asset seizure that is now the home of the new county hospice, but he also remembered some instances in times past when it cost the county to remove or replace dilapidated structures in other forfeiture cases.

“It’s much better for commissioners to make the decision on that,” Jarboe said, adding that costs of forfeiture sometimes outweighed the benefits.

“It’s good to know the rest of the story with some of these properties,” he said.

I’m not entirely sure how I should feel about this, but overall it seems like a marginal improvement. This appears to give commissioners more control over what is forfeited and where the proceeds go, which still raises concerns about corruption, but commissioners typically face more public scrutiny when election time rolls around than other local officials. In the end, this may also result in fewer forfeitures, period, if the commissioners and the county prosecutor are not as well equipped to handle forfeiture cases as the state prosecutor. That may not be the ideal situation, but fewer forfeitures probably means fewer unjust forfeitures.

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