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Indiana judge dismisses lawsuit over forfeiture funds

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An Indianapolis judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit that accused 78 county prosecutors of breaking the law by not turning over assets seized from criminals to a state school fund.

Marion Superior Judge Tim Oakes said in his ruling that the suit filed under Indiana's whistleblower law was moot in part because the state already knew about the issue.

State law currently allows law enforcement agencies to keep a portion of seized funds to cover "law enforcement costs" and give the rest to the common school fund, which helps pay for school construction. But the amounts are up to prosecutors' discretion.

While Oakes threw out the suit, he said the system should be reviewed.

"The merits of the issue at the heart of the matter do not deserve to be ignored," Oakes wrote. "Little, if any, logical assessment — much less consistent assessment — appear to enter the prosecutors' minds as they determine their take for pursuing the forfeiture actions."

Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who defended the prosecutors, agreed.

"Having issued our own legal opinion months before this suit was filed, we agree with the court that the system of forfeitures in Indiana is in need of consistency and should be reviewed," Zoeller said in a statement.

He said the Legislature currently is considering a bill that would change how forfeitures are handled.

"The details are being refined by the Legislature, but I support creating a clear, unambiguous method of calculating the civil forfeiture funds that law enforcement and schools can receive," Zoeller said.

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  • Don't blame IBJ
    Mr. Ogden, this is an Associated Press article.
  • Unconstitutional
    Unfortunately the IBJ overlooked the major part of the opinion in which Judge Oakes proceeds to state that the civil forfeiture statute itself quite likely violates the Constitution, and directly refutes the AG's advisory opinion on the issue where the AG attempts to make some distinction between "civil" and "criminal" forfeiture.

    Unfortunately AG Zoeller has not cooperated in our attempts to enforce the existing civil forfeiture law or seek an accounting of the millions of dollars that has been misappropriated over the years. As a result, we may simply amend the complaint to include the constitutionality claim and have the entire civil forfeiture law struck down as unconstitutional.

    Paul K. Ogden
    ROBERTS & BISHOP

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