I have written about it before—HB2477—a major reform to the civil asset forfeiture process in Arizona that was passed by legislators and signed by the Governor. Amongst the many good things it does, the law now requires all RICO (seized money) fund expenditures by a County Attorney’s Offices to first be approved by the County Boards of Supervisors. The County Attorneys’ (most states call them District Attorney’s Offices) voiced their strong opposition to this and most every provision of the bill. They argued that the system would be unworkable, claiming that sometimes money must be spent quickly with no time to ask for permission. Notably, they also argued that increased reporting requirements are unnecessary as they were sworn to uphold the laws of Arizona and do not, never have, and would never improperly spend RICO funds or inappropriately use civil asset forfeiture power. Arizona lawmakers overwhelmingly disagreed.
In Arizona, in addition to being the chief law enforcement officer and prosecutor in each county, the County Attorney is the chief legal advisor to the Board of Supervisors. Because of this unique situation, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors voted to hire outside legal counsel to advise them on the appropriate use of RICO funds, likely fearing that receiving legal advice on expenditures from the very office that wants to spend the funds is akin to putting the fox in charge of the hen house. Pima County, the state’s second most populated county and home to Tucson and the University of Arizona relied on RICO advice from their County Attorney until recently. Last week, the Pima County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to strip the County Attorney of her authority to advise the board on RICO matters, including expenditures—but why, you ask?
Already under scrutiny for previous questionable RICO expenditures, the County Attorney sent a number of victim witness advocates to Las Vegas in the aftermath of the horrific mass shooting that took place there. She used RICO funds to pay for all expenses. The move seems perfectly reasonable, but when the board asked what prompted the action, the County Attorney indicated that the Nevada Attorney General had personally asked for the help. The Board, mindful of the new law, asked for documentation of the request. She refused. When pressed, she claimed the information sought was privileged communication and persisted in her refusal to cooperate with the Board. Although she would not share any information with the Board—who is her client—she happily shared the story with the public via Facebook where she promoted the trip and the work of her advocates. Her refusal to cooperate on what likely would have been an easily approved RICO expenditure was the final straw for the Board. In Pima County the fox no longer has the key to the hen house. It appears HB2477, contrary to the protestations of the County Attorneys, was necessary after all.
-Kurt M. Altman, PLC, is a former state and federal prosecutor and Alison Holcomb is director of the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice.
This story was originally posted on the Right on Crime website.