Monday, December 16, 2013

Oral Arguments Scheduled in Ka Nefer Nefer Mummy Mask Appeal

The Eight Circuit Court of Appeals has scheduled oral arguments for January 13, 2013 in the case of U.S. v. Mask of Ka Nefer Nefer.

The case involves federal prosecutors' efforts to forfeit the Ka Nefer Nefer mummy mask from the St. Louis Art Museum (SLAM). Government lawyers wrote in July 2011 that SLAM's “claim of ownership is legally impossible, and as such the Mask is effectively contraband in the hands of the Museum."

Prosecutors allege that the ancient burial mask, which archaeologists discovered during an authorized excavation in 1952, was stolen from Egypt. SLAM purchased the cultural object in 1998 for approximately half a million dollars.

A Missouri federal district court brought the government’s forfeiture case to an end in April 2012, concluding that the government's complaint failed to specifically explain how the mask was allegedly stolen or smuggled, or how it was brought into the U.S. illegally.

The U.S. Attorney's Office filed a motion to reconsider the court's decision, and in May 2012 the government revealed new information that it said would support a proposed amended complaint. Judge Henry Autrey denied the motion to reconsider, and federal prosecutors filed a proposed amended complaint anyway. The district court rejected the government's case a second time.

Source: Eight Circuit Court of Appeals
Attorneys for the government appealed to the Eight Circuit, arguing that the lower court abused its discretion by not allowing them to file an amended complaint. Lawyers for SLAM rebuffed their argument by contending that there is "no basis on which to find [that] the District Court abused its discretion in denying the Government’s fatally late and insufficient submission of its Proposed Amended Complaint." SLAM chided federal officials for "the liberties the Government takes ...."

The appellate case is expected to be heard by Circuit Judges James Loken, Diana Murphy, and Lavenski Smith. Loken is former chief judge of the appellate court, nominated to the bench by President George H. W. Bush in 1990. Murphy is a 1994 Clinton appointee, and Smith is a 2002 appointee nominated by George W. Bush.

UPDATE January 14, 2014: A summary of the oral argument can now be found here.

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: www.culturalheritagelawyer.com