Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Litigants Remain Far Apart in Ancient Coins Forfeiture Case

"In short, the parties have dramatically different views as to how this case should proceed." That is the conclusion of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Maryland after a July 15 meeting with the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) to discuss court scheduling. The ACCG, meanwhile, slapped the government with discovery requests.

Recent pleadings filed by both parties show just how wide the divide is between the two sides.

The battle of U.S. v. Three Knife-Shaped Coins, Twelve Chinese Coins, and Seven Cypriot Coins is the latest round in a seizure and forfeiture contest that began four years ago when the ACCG transported ancient coins from London to Baltimore, declaring to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that they were from China and Cyprus but with no known provenance or find spots. CBP took custody of the coins, initiating a series of court battles by the ACCG that have dealt the trade organization successive defeats in federal district court, the circuit court of appeals, and the U.S. supreme court.

The current court case restarted in the district court this spring when the U.S. Attorney filed a forfeiture complaint in May. The ACCG, the claimant, filed defenses in a response the following month.

Federal prosecutors in their most recent pleading dated July 16 charge that the ACCG wishes "to attempt to re-litigate many if not all of the issues that were addressed by this court and the Court of Appeals in 2011 and 2012." Yet they add that "none of the issues that were litigated in the previous lawsuit are before the court in this case, and the parties should not have to invest judicial resources in conducting discovery on those issues."

The prosecutors further assert that the ACCG "raises defenses [in the case] that are so vague that it is impossible to know what issue Claimant intends to raise or whether Claimant seriously intends to contest the allegations in the Government’s complaint."

The government's lawyers highlight seemingly stretched defenses by the ACCG that they say should be addressed by the court as a matter of law. "For example, [the ACCG's] Affirmative Defense 2 asserts the innocent owner defense...It is undisputed, however, that Claimant is the perpetrator of the conduct giving rise to the alleged forfeiture. As a matter of law, the perpetrator of the conduct giving rise to the forfeiture cannot be an innocent owner, because such person cannot show that he unaware of that conduct ...."

The ACCG fires back in its own July 16 court filing by demanding discovery from the government. It writes, “This is a far different case. Here, the government seeks the forfeiture of the Guild's coins, presumably so they can be packed off to Cyprus and China as trophies." The trade group argues that it "is allowed discovery as to why the government believes the Guild's coins were 'first discovered within' and 'subject to the export control' of either Cyprus or China ... before the government can take the Guild's coins and pack them off as trophies to cultural bureaucracies in China or Cyprus."

The ACCG adds that "it is entitled to discovery into whether the government complied with the significant substantive and procedural constraints found in the CPIA before imposing import restrictions on Cypriot or Chinese coins." The Claimant contends that "the Guild also has good reason to believe some of the exact same mid and lower level State Department employees who engineered the controversial decisions imposing import restrictions on Cypriot and Chinese coins also guide CBP in deciding whether to detain and seize so-called 'cultural property,' presumably including the Guild's coins."

District Court Judge Catherine Blake issued a simple order on July 26, 2013:
The government is not required to respond to the interrogatories, requests for production, or requests for admission served by defendants’ counsel at this time; no discovery will proceed (unless agreed to) pending the resolution of the government’s motion which will seek to strike defenses and/or clarify the issues to be litigated in this case.
Motions are expected to be filed in the case through November.

This post is researched, written, and published on the blog Cultural Heritage Lawyer Rick St. Hilaire at culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Text copyrighted 2010-2013 by Ricardo A. St. Hilaire, Attorney & Counselor at Law, PLLC. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post is prohibited. CONTACT INFORMATION: www.culturalheritagelawyer.com