Just Above Sunset
August 8, 2004 - Ignorance of the law is no excuse... an odd little item here...

Home | Question Time | Something Is Up | Connecting Dots | Stay Away | Overload | Our Man in Paris | WLJ Weekly | Book Wrangler | Cobras | The Edge of the Pacific | The Surreal Beach | On Location | Botanicals | Quotes

Note this press release from the American Library Association -


For Immediate Release
July 30, 2004

Statement from ALA President-Elect Michael Gorman on the destruction of Department of Justice documents

CHICAGO -- The following statement has been issued by President-Elect Michael Gorman, representing President Carol Brey-Casiano, who is currently in Guatemala representing the Association:

Last week, the American Library Association learned that the Department of Justice asked the Government Printing Office Superintendent of Documents to instruct depository libraries to destroy five publications the Department has deemed not "appropriate for external use." The Department of Justice has called for these five public documents, two of which are texts of federal statutes, to be removed from depository libraries and destroyed, making their content available only to those with access to a law office or law library.

The topics addressed in the named documents include information on how citizens can retrieve items that may have been confiscated by the government during an investigation. The documents to be removed and destroyed include: Civil and Criminal Forfeiture Procedure; Select Criminal Forfeiture Forms; Select Federal Asset Forfeiture Statutes; Asset forfeiture and money laundering resource directory; and Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 (CAFRA).

ALA has submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the withdrawn materials in order to obtain an official response from the Department of Justice regarding this unusual action, and why the Department has requested that documents that have been available to the public for as long as four years be removed from depository library collections. ALA is committed to ensuring that public documents remain available to the public and will do its best to bring about a satisfactory resolution of this matter.

Librarians should note that, according to policy 72, written authorization from the Superintendent of Documents is required to remove any documents. To this date no such written authorization in hard copy has been issued.


Now wait a second here.  This is mighty odd.

A hypothetical – as I live in Hollywood just off the Sunset Strip say that in a massive drug sweep I am arrested on suspicion of, say, laundering money for the low-life types down there, or given the history of the British movie star Hugh Grant, arrested for soliciting and actually employing one of them there ladies of the night in the relative privacy of my parked car on a quiet side street.  (Yes, a number of years ago Grant got busted for just that three blocks east of here.)  Whichever case, sex or drugs, I was in my car, which I rather like, actually.  It was confiscated.  They can do that – and have been doing that with “johns” who used to cruise the area looking for companionship with these ladies of the night.  And that has been, by the way, very effective.  That stuff stopped over the last several years.  They scared away the customers.  You could lose you car forever – sometimes even if you were cleared of all charges.  There’s been some controversy about that, but it has happened – and still happens.  Anyway, whatever the charge in my hypothetical case, I’m cleared.  They discover that I’m really a harmless nobody – which everyone knew anyway - and the authorities after a time drop all charges and send me on my way.  And then I think, maybe, I can get my car back.  It’s worth a shot.

So how do I get my cute little black convertible back – if they haven’t sold it at auction and used the profits to buy more gizmos for their police cruisers? I  need a lawyer – because the laws – and the applicable procedures and forms – have been withdrawn from public access.  I’m not supposed to see them. T hey are not appropriate for external use.  This is not a do-it-yourself thing anymore at all.

What the heck – it only adds a bit of expense.  And lawyers have to eat too.  And maybe these things are too complicated and dangerous for us civilians.

I just hate not knowing things, and being told I’m not supposed to know things.

I should be more trusting. T he Department of Justice must have its reasons for hiding selected statutes and procedures from the public, to which they apply – calling for all copies to be destroyed - and must be right in not explaining those reasons to anyone.

But it bothers me.

On the other hand, no one wants to be a pain in the ass, always asking questions and seeming to know so much more than he or she should.  That really puts people off - and we are, after all, at war and pesky impertinent questions aid the terrorists who want to kill us all… or something.

This is a minor issue – one of the most minor.  Add it to all else that has happened in the last almost three years with the Patriot Act and whatnot and you could get all paranoid about some sort of creeping police state.

Not here.   Not here.  You just have to trust those in power and not rock the boat.




Note – this from a good friend who is a corporate attorney on Wall Street, and who I will not name as he is not speaking for his firm of offering legal advice…


I can’t even begin to understand the basis for destroying these publications. 


First, are they now, or have they have been classified documents?  To the extent that they must not be, as they are still presently available, the answer is that they are not classified.


Second, what purpose is served by destroying these publications?   While I’m all for the full employment of lawyers, going down this road can only be seen as a way to hinder an individual from defending himself/herself.  The ability to represent one’s self is even more important during these times when power without reason grows in our government. 


Third, how does one now go about destroying all copies?  I’m sure various law offices have these publications.  I’m willing to bet some laymen have copies too.


While this is not my area of law, it makes me wonder about the motivation behind such governmental interference with self-representation.  Many people represent themselves because they lack access to the legal system via representation.  I have done a fair amount of pro bono work for the arts in New York and most of these artists/musicians would not be able to fend for themselves in the world of charitable organizations without legal counsel.  In the present case, we are talking about governmental confiscation, which is admittedly far more serious.  To the extent that affordable legal help may not be available, the ability to defend one’s self is crucial.  It should also be noted that there are those individuals who believe that ALL lawyers are part of a corrupt system and that; therefore, all lawyers are not to be trusted.  I disagree with this of course.  Some of us are Democrats after all. 


It will be interesting to see how this plays out.


Interesting – as he mentions, these are times when power without reason grows in our government.  And that was the point here.  Maybe this should be done – but it would be nice to know why it should be done.  “Trust us” is wearing thin.


On the other hand, the country is split down the middle right now, and the supporters of the administration do say, implicitly, that there are some things we should not know, policies we shouldn’t question, and actions that shouldn’t be questioned or second-guessed – that to raise issues about all this is unpatriotic at best and treasonous at worst, as we are at war and doing so means you “hate America.”  I believe that’s the line.


As for governmental interference with self-representation, well, what could be the motive for that?  It is hard to come up with even a conspiracy theory that accounts for such an effort.  The Lawyers Lobby got to someone?


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....