Posts Tagged ‘law enforcement for profit’

Where a conflict of interest policy for prosecutors would have helped

The city of Woodbury, Minn. employs a local law firm on contract to “prosecute certain criminal matters on the City’s behalf.” Lawyers from this firm filed a criminal action against Mr. Sample over an alleged domestic assault even as, at the same time, the firm was representing his alleged victim in civil actions including a restraining order. It “later asked another firm to prosecute the criminal case against Sample [on the grounds] that it had a conflict of interest.” Mr. Sample’s later section 1983 suit alleged that the law firm’s dual role at the time of the filing had violated his constitutional rights; the Eighth Circuit ruled that the prosecutors themselves enjoyed absolute personal immunity, but — such immunity not extending to towns — ordered further consideration of Sample’s claim that the town should be liable for not instituting a conflict-of-interest policy that would have headed off the problem before it happened. [Sample v. City of Woodbury et al.]

“It’s what I do”: professional TCPA plaintiff had 35 cellphones

“Melody Stoops admits she was in the ‘business’ of bringing lawsuits against companies over calls they made to her cell phones without her permission.” Storing the prepaid-service phones in a shoebox when not in use, she waited for robocalls from solvent companies, which are mostly banned under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. “She has filed at least 11 TCPA cases in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania and has sent at least 25 pre-litigation demand letters.” A judge has now disallowed her standing to sue on one of the cases, saying she cannot claim that the calls were a nuisance, invasion of privacy, or economic injury given that she obtained the phones with the goal of suffering legal injury. [Jessica Karmasek, Legal Newsline/Forbes]

Frontiers of forfeiture: emptying pre-paid bank cards

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol has become the latest law enforcement body to begin using “ERAD readers,” devices that allow police to freeze and seize any funds on pre-paid debit and credit cards, now used by many poorer and younger persons as a favored financial vehicle. The devices also allow police to obtain some data about conventional credit and ATM cards, but not, it appears from coverage, to freeze and seize funds in those accounts on the spot. “If you can prove can prove that you have a legitimate reason to have that money it will be given back to you,” said a police spokesman. Oklahoma “is paying ERAD Group Inc., $5,000 for the software and scanners, then 7.7 percent of all the cash the highway patrol seizes.” [Aaron Brilbeck/News 9 Oklahoma, Clifton Adcock/Oklahoma Watchdog, Scott Greenfield (highway patrol’s views of what is and is not suspicious confer a great deal of arbitrary power), Justin Gardner/Free Thought Project last October on Arizona use]

Plus: “New Mexico Ended Civil Asset Forfeiture. Why Then Is It Still Happening?” [NPR] A car is stopped for “swerving,” and soon police have confiscated the $18,000 its owner was carrying for payroll and other expenses of her southern California janitorial business [ACLU of San Diego, p. 7, “It happened to me: Janitorial business”]

Debra Saunders on California vehicle ticketing

The closer to sheer revenue maximization, the farther from justice: “California is filled with people who are one traffic ticket away from losing their means of independent transportation. They get a ticket for a busted tail light or a small-change moving violation. On paper, the fine is $100, but with surcharges, it’s more like $490. …In 2013, more people — 510,811 — had their licenses suspended for not paying fines than the 150,366 who lost their licenses for drunken driving.” [San Francisco Chronicle]

“US Marshals arresting people for not paying their federal student loans” (P.S.: Really?)

[Note: updated Friday 9:30 a.m., an hour and a half after publication, after it became clear that the original reporting was gravely flawed] According to KRIV, “the US Marshals Service in Houston is arresting people for not paying their outstanding federal student loans. Paul Aker …says seven deputy US Marshals showed up at his home with guns and took him to federal court where he had to sign a payment plan for the [$1500] 29-year-old school loan. Congressman Gene Green says the federal government is now using private debt collectors to go after those who owe student loans. Green says as a result, those attorneys and debt collectors are getting judgments in federal court and asking judges to use the US Marshals Service to arrest those who have failed to pay their federal student loans.”

But see: Scott Riddle with plenty of evidence that KRIV’s version of the story omits material facts (h/t commenter Matthew: Aker “wasn’t arrested for the debt itself. He was arrested for evading service and failing to show up for mandatory court dates.”) As for the guns, the marshals’ office said it sent reinforcements when an attempt to arrest Aker failed and the situation escalated. As Riddle notes, the original report had spread rapidly around news outlets, but corrections and clarifications are often slow to catch up.

Law enforcement for profit roundup

Posner upholds dismissal of online-poker suit

Under an old Illinois law, not only can persons who lose at unlawful gambling sue the winners to claw back their losses, but if they fail to act, literally any other person can sue demanding that money. Citing this law, two women sued online-poker operators seeking to recover gambling losses of men who happened to be their sons (but could as easily under the law have been strangers). A Seventh Circuit panel, Judge Posner writing, has now upheld a lower court’s dismissal of the case (an intended class action) on the grounds that the Illinois law by its terms allows suit only against the other gamblers who won the poker games in question, not the house that collected a fee for presiding. [Courthouse News, Rakebrain; opinion in Sonnenberg v. Amaya Group Holdings via John Ross, Institute for Justice “Short Circuit”]

While on the subject of Judge Posner, Harvard Magazine has a Lincoln Caplan interview with him that is worth a read.

Forfeiture roundup

  • “Justice Department suspends abusive asset forfeiture program – for now” [Ilya Somin]
  • Tulsa sheriff steers seizures to judge it once employed, invokes unclaimed property law which dodges burden of proof [The Frontier]
  • Op-ed claims that if Maryland cops grab your stuff you must be a “drug dealer,” trial or no [Joseph Cassilly, Baltimore Sun]
  • Quest for revenue-self-sufficient law enforcement can end in “independent, self-funding armed gangs” [Noah Smith, Bloomberg View]
  • “Get rid of policing for profit in Michigan” [Angela Erickson, Detroit News]
  • Congress has twice tried to make it easier for prevailing claimants to recover attorneys’ fees when recovering seized property, but the government finds ways to slip around [Scott Greenfield]
  • Value of assets seized by law enforcement in U.S. in 2014 exceeds value taken by burglars [Armstrong Economics]

Bounty-hunting lawyer collects Illinois taxes nationwide

Wineries that ship to customers nationwide are among the latest targets of a Chicago attorney who has developed a lucrative freelance enforcement niche. Steven Diamond and his firm of Schad, Diamond and Shedden “have filed hundreds of suits against various companies in industries such as cookware, flowers and motorsports” and more recently beverage makers under “an Illinois law that requires businesses to collect sales taxes for the state, not only on what they sell, but on shipping-and-handling charges. A whistleblower rule allows anyone within the state to sue in the name of Illinois and collect any recovered funds.” [Wine Spectator] While a number of other states also tax shipping charges, Illinois authorities, unable to agree on how to interpret a relevant decision by their state’s high court, have given conflicting guidance on when taxes are owed. [Wines and Vines, Tom Wark, Schiff Hardin, WTAX]

P.S. Related on the practice of tax farming in the Roman Empire and pre-Revolutionary France, and latter-day parallels, here, here, and here.