US Attorney Carmen Ortiz May Appeal Carswell Forfeiture Case

The Boston Herald reports that controversial US Attorney Carmen Ortiz may be planning to appeal her trial court defeat in United States v. 434 Main Street, Tewksbury, the highly abusive asset forfeiture case I blogged about on Friday:

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said her office is weighing an appeal against a Tewksbury motel owner who criticized her for prosecutorial bullying last week after he won his battle in the feds’ three-year bid to seize his business, citing drug busts on the property.

“This case was strictly a law-enforcement effort to crack down on what was seen as a pattern of using the motel to further the commission of drug crimes for nearly three decades,” Ortiz said in a statement. “We are weighing our options with respect to appeal.”

Russ Caswell, owner of Motel Caswell, told the Herald he thought the case was “bullying by the government” and felt vindicated when a judge sided with him after his court victory last week.

“It’s like they’ve got nothing better to do,” Caswell said after he heard prosecutors are considering an appeal.

To some extent, I actually hope Ortiz does appeal. Given the extreme facts of the case (which I discussed here and here), it’s likely that the First Circuit Court of Appeals will reach the same conclusion as the trial court did. And unlike a district court decision, a court of appeals decision is binding precedent that lower courts in that region of the country must follow. But I also feel for the property owners here, who have already endured a three-year legal battle over an asset forfeiture action that should never have gotten started in the first place. Even with excellent pro bono legal representation by the Institute for Justice, they have likely gone through a painful ordeal that should not be extended any longer.

Ortiz has already achieved notoriety as the prosecutor in the controversial federal case against the late internet activist Aaron Swartz. I’m not nearly expert enough in internet law to have a strong opinion about her conduct in that instance. But I do know enough to say that prolonging this asset forfeiture battle is unlikely to improve her reputation.

UPDATE: I should have noted in the original post that the Solicitor General has the ultimate authority to decide whether to appeal cases that the federal government loses in district court. So the decision will not be up to Ortiz alone. However, the US attorney in charge of the case generally has substantial input into the decision.

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