Civil Liberties

Indiana Attorney General on Asset Forfeiture Abuse: Not My Problem


In my Monday column on how prosecutors and police in Indiana get around the state's requirement that all asset forfeiture proceeds go to a fund for the state's public schools, I noted that Indianapolis attorney and college instructor Paul Ogden found that over the last two years, just five of the state's 92 counties had paid any money into the fund at all. The Indianapolis Star found the same thing in a report this weekend.

So not only are some Indiana counties contracting forfeiture cases to private attorneys on a contingency basis—which forfeiture experts I consulted say is a violation of the U.S. Constitution's Due Process clause—more than 90 percent of the state's counties are ignoring the schools fund requirement altogether.

So what does the attorney general have to say? When I contacted the office of Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller for my February article on forfeiture, I received no response. But Ogden notes that Zoeller's office office did issue this dismissive, almost sarcastic response to an inquiry from Joel Schumm, a professor at the Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis.

"The 92 county prosecutors are the attorney general's clients, and we provide them legal advice upon request. We do not serve as the accountant for other units of government."

Ogden responds:

Excuse me? Where in the law does it say that the AG has to be invited to offer legal advice to public officials? Further, is the Department of Education not a client of the Attorney General? Is the Treasurer's Office, which is responsible for the Common School Fund, also not a client of the AG? And what about the Indiana General Assembly? Does our legislature not have a right to trust that the AG is going to insist that public officials follow the laws it passes?

Contrary to the claim of the spokesperson, the Indiana Attorney General does not have a responsibility to aid county prosecutors in the violation of the civil forfeiture law, a violation that is reslulting in the diversion of millions of dollars in forfeiture funds away from Hoosier children and to their own coffers.

I wonder what Zoeller would do if a local prosecutor decided to stop enforcing the state's drug laws?

The attorney general is also the state's highest-ranking law enforcement official. He's required to enforce the law even when the people who are violating it happen to be other prosecutors, even when the violations of the law are widespread, even if the violations aren't necessarily for personal gain, and even if this is just the way it's always been done.

It would be one thing for Zoeller's office to say it has a different interpretation of the law—perhaps explaining why Zoeller believes the various ways around the schools fund requirement are legally permissible. But the statement above nearly mocks concerns about how forfeiture proceeds are being used, and dismisses the diversion of millions of dollars in forfeiture proceeds as something akin to a bookkeeping decision. It's pretty arrogant, even for a politician.