Berkeley Patients Group wins another round in forfeiture fight: Despite Feds’ objections, Magistrate Judge rules U.S. must respond to BPG’s requests for civil discovery.

Yesterday, over the objections of federal prosecutors, U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James issued an order granting the Berkeley Patients Group (BPG) their motions to compel responses to various discovery requests relating to the attempted forfeiture of BPG's licensed medical cannabis dispensary.

The Government first attempted to close BPG by threatening BPG's former landlord with forfeiture of its property if BPG continued operations on its property. At the time, federal prosecutors represented that BPG's close proximity to Berkeley, CA schools motivated the attempt to force closure. BPG subsequently agreed to close its former location. It reopened in November of 2012 "after extensive vetting by Berkeley officials to ensure it was located outside the vicinity of any schools." United States v. Real Prop. & Improvements, Case No. 13-cv-02027-JST (MEJ), 2014 LEXIS 70623 (N.D. Cal. May 22, 2014)

In April of 2013, the Government moved to forfeit BPG's new location, despite the vetting of Berkeley officials, "alleging that BPG was located within 1000 feet of Nia House Learning Center and Color Me Children Preschool, which BPG contends are daycare facilities for toddlers and preschoolers, not schools." Id.  

BPG then served the federal Government with a series of Interrogatories, Requests for Admissions and Requests for Production relating to BPG's sixteen asserted affirmative defenses. Among other things, BPG sought discovery relevant to whether the federal Government was selectively interpreting its policies against BPG and whether the federal Government was vindictively or selectively prosecuting BPG. 

The federal Government, in turn, “objected to each Interrogatory on the grounds it was ‘burdensome,’” and “objected to the entire set of Interrogatories on the basis of relevance, arguing that it need not provide discovery related to affirmative defenses that are insufficient as a matter of law.” Id. Further, federal prosecutors "asserted general objections based on attorney-client privilege and attorney work product privilege to the entire set of requests, as well as specific objections to each request based on law enforcement privilege and deliberative process privilege." Id

Laudably, U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James rejected the arguments of federal prosecutors. 



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