Tony Jalali stood to lose his entire commercial building in Anaheim, Calif., even though he was never charged with—let alone convicted of—any crime. This is what property owners throughout America face when confronted with the tyrannical doctrine of civil forfeiture.
But, in October, Tony prevailed. The government, which tried to take Tony’s property, dropped its civil forfeiture suit against the building: United States of America v. Real Property Located at 2601 W. Ball Road.
The federal government sought Tony’s property simply because he rented space to a medical marijuana dispensary, which is completely legal in California. Tony had no involvement in the operation of the dispensary or with the marijuana industry. He was merely a landlord who rented space to a lawful California business, as he had to a dentist and an insurance company in the same building.
Not only is medical marijuana legal in California, but state law also prohibits the forfeiture of homes and buildings like Tony’s without convicting the property owner of a crime. In other words, government officials could not forfeit Tony’s building since he was never even accused of a crime. But the city of Anaheim teamed up with the federal government to do an end-run around California law to deprive Tony of his property. If they were successful, the Department of Justice would keep 20 percent of the value of Tony’s $1.5 million property while the remainder would go to Anaheim law enforcement officials.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, where Anaheim is located, aggressively used civil forfeiture against landlords in an attempt to enforce the federal prohibition of marijuana, filing more than 30 lawsuits against landlords renting to medical marijuana dispensaries during the past two years. But on August 29, 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a memorandum to all U.S. Attorneys instructing them not to bring cases enforcing the federal ban on marijuana in states where it is legal unless the activity involves “criminal enterprises, gangs, cartels” or implicates important national concerns.
The government agreed to dismiss our case with prejudice, which means the government gives up any right to file the case again in the future and threaten Tony’s property.
This is the second time this year IJ has taken on the federal government on civil forfeiture and prevailed. Earlier this year, a court in Boston ruled in favor of our clients Russ and Pat Caswell and their family-owned motel.
But as another article in this issue of Liberty & Law makes clear, our fight on behalf of property owners against the federal government’s forfeiture spree is far from finished. We are delighted Tony’s property is now safe, and we will continue our fight against the injustice of civil forfeiture in federal and state courts across the nation.
Scott Bullock is an IJ senior attorney.