Thursday, August 20, 2009

Judge Rules U.S. Seizure of Charity's Assets Unlawful

According to a report published in today's Toledo Blade, a federal judge in Toledo, Ohio, on Tuesday  ruled that the U.S. government violated the constitutional rights of a Muslim charity when it froze the charity's assets in 2005 and prevented it from adequately defending itself against allegations of ties to terrorism.  

Judge James Carr (Northern District of Ohio) released a 100-page order late Tuesday in KindHearts for Charitable Development, Inc. v. Geithner in which he agreed with the charity's assertions that it had been denied due process and was subjected to the unlawful seizure of its property. According to the Blade, KindHearts, founded in 2002, was targeted in 2006 by federal agents, who in turn froze the charity's financial assets.  Court documents revealed that "the organization was under investigation by the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Treasury De-partment and would potentially be labeled as a 'specially designated global terrorist.'" 

Earlier this year, Judge Carr ordered the government to produce copies of all materials seized in 2006 from KindHearts' headquarters and the home of its president.

The organization's attorneys had argued that without access to the information, it could not defend itself against charges of terrorism by showing where its money was spent. The government countered that opening access could compromise its investigation.

The organization's attorneys also argued that the government violated search-and-seizure laws when it froze KindHearts' assets without showing probable cause and without obtaining a warrant.

In the order released on Tuesday, Judge Carr wrote:

KindHearts is indisputably one of 'the people' protected by the Fourth Amendment. If the Constitution affords KindHearts no protection from unreasonable searches and seizures, whom among 'the people' does it protect and who among the people can be certain of its protection?

Judge Carr also noted that finding the Fourth Amendment inapplicable to the government's "block actions" would disregard its "role as a bulwark against the abuses and excesses of unchecked governmental power." 

In responding to the ruling, Charles Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Division said that his office will analyze the lengthy opinion so that it is wholly understood.  He declined further comment.

Of course, the government can appeal the decision to the Sixth Circuit.  The Blade reports that "At a May 1 court appearance before the judge in which both sides argued their cases, the government indicated if the judge ruled the freeze of assets lifted, it would request a stay until the appellate court hears the case."

Time will tell what happens next.

VEJ

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/nonprofit/2009/08/judge-rules-us-seizure-of-charitys-assets-unlawful.html

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