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Senate GOP Leaders Join Accountability Utah in Opposing Shurtleff's View of Federal Forfeiture!
(News for 4/18/04)

Summary: In a letter to Republican county delegates in Sen. Chris Buttars' district (the sponsor of Senate Bill 175), the Utah Senate Republican Leadership unanimously admit that federal forfeiture proceedings lack due process. They also attempt to justify their passage of SB 175.


1. Senate GOP Leadership Admits Its Own Guilt

2. Confused Authors & Unclear Authorship

3. Fuzzy Facts

4. Misuse of Official Capacities for Partisan Campaigning

5. An Exercise in Manipulation

1. Senate GOP Leadership Admits Its Own Guilt

In a letter to Republican county delegates, the Senate Republican Leadership (SRL) finally admitted what Accountability Utah has been saying all along:

"It is true that federal forfeitures lack appropriate safeguards."

This statement contradicts the propaganda campaign of General Mark Shurtleff's deputy, Kirk Torgensen:

"Forfeiture has been part of the law for centuries. There is nothing about it which is unconstitutional or lacking in due process."
Source: "Forfeiture law rightly denies criminals their ill-gotten gains," Kirk Torgensen, Salt Lake Tribune, July 6, 2003.
Note: In
his 2000 campaign literature, Shurtleff himself sang a different tune: "Forfeiture is an important crime fighting tool, but must only occur within Constitutional limits.  While I oppose civil forfeiture [which is the only forfeiture being debated], I support criminal forfeiture, once an individual has been found guilty."

If the SRL's admission is accurate (which it is), then it cannot simultaneously be accurate that Senate Bill (SB) 175 "establishes vital due process protections for property owners" as the SRL also claims.  SB 175 authorizes state prosecutors to transfer seized property to federal agencies (not courts), where appropriate safeguards are admittedly lacking!

In these federal proceedings, for example, property owners are guilty until proven innocent:

(d) Innocent Owner Defense.
(1) An innocent owner's interest in property shall not be forfeited under any civil forfeiture statute. The claimant shall have the burden of proving that the claimant is an innocent owner by a preponderance of the evidence.
Source: Title 18, Section 983, U.S. Code.

For additional analysis of SB 175 and the lack of due process at the federal level, read an analysis of SB 175 & Confiscation Statutes/Abuse by Mr. Arnold Gaunt, volunteer with Forfeiture Endangers American Rights, at the recent debate at BYU (cited in the SRL's letter).


2.  Confused Authors & Unclear Authorship

It is unclear why two of SRL, Senate Majority Leader Michael Waddoups and Senate Majority Whip John Valentine, signed this letter.  Both of these senators voted against SB 175.

Sen. Valentine, in particular, passed out a video to his fellow senators that urged them to vote against SB 175.  He also privately told many citizens throughout the state that SB 175 was wrong and assured them that he was staunchly opposed to it.

This letter, however, praises SB 175 as,

"...Essential legal weaponry in Utah's fight against crime and drugs in our neighborhoods."

Is it possible that Senators Valentine and Waddoups suffered serious head injuries shortly after the legislative session?

In addition, it is unclear who the "I" referred to in the letter. For example, in the third paragraph, it states:

"The only other public hearing of which I am aware..."

Did Sen. Buttars write this for their signature? If the letter is from the SRL, shouldn't it say "we"?


3. Fuzzy Facts

The SRL refers to over 7 hours of public committee hearings. What they fail to disclose is that less than one hour of this time was provided for citizens opposing SB 175's attack on due process and property ownership rights.

The letter states that a meeting was held at West Jordan and that, "No one supporting SB 175 was allowed to speak." In fact, the attendees of the meeting voted to allow SB 175 supporters to speak, but that they had to wait their turn (which many of them did not appreciate).  Kirk Torgensen, chief deputy to General Mark Shurtleff, did speak for some time.  Sen. Buttars did not attend the meeting.

If Sen. Buttars was responsive to his constituents, he never would have sponsored SB 175. Which of his constituents asked him to sponsor this legislation or was involved in drafting it? Sen. Buttars admitted to Accountability Utah team members that he was carrying water for SB 175's former sponsor, Lyle Hillyard.  He was obviously also working with General Shurtleff's office.

The failure of the SRL to get things right isn't limited to their misrepresentations regarding SB 175 and their failure to stop this legislation. They refer to "a Janet Jensen", while the person who wrote the letter to the delegates was Janet Jenson (last name spelled with an "o", not an "e"). They also state that, "she claims to have authored" Initiative B.  In fact, she was the drafter of Initiative B, and her billing accounts verify that.

The SRL doesn't provide any factual information regarding the harm done to innocent property owners by SB 175 presented by Janet Jenson in her letter. Is this because they have no response?


4. Misuse of Official Capacities for Partisan Campaigning

The author(s) of the letter purport that:

"This letter was not produced or mailed at taxpayer expense." 

The letter does, however, list the official address of the Utah State Senate Majority Leadership as the return address.  It also lists the four alleged authors in their taxpayer-funded positions.

Is this appropriate for such a letter?  Were the Minority Leadership asked to participate in this endorsement of SB 175?


5. Tired of Being Manipulated?

If the SRL wishes to support SB 175 and Sen. Buttars, they should not misrepresent and provide incomplete and inaccurate information on the bill and the facts surrounding it. And half of them certainly should not have voted against it.

Feel free to contact the authors of this letter and let them know how you feel:

Name E-mail Home Office Fax:
Alma "Al" Mansell amansell@utahsenate.org  801-942-6019 801-538-1406 801-484-1123
Michael Waddoups mwaddoups@utahsenate.org  801-967-0225 801-355-1136 801-531-9011
John Valentine jvalentine@utahsenate.org  801-224-1693 801-373-6345
Peter Knudson pknudson@utahsenate.org  435-723-2035 435-723-6366

For additional contact information for other officials, visit our Elected Officials Contact Information page.


Additional Resources: Again, for a very different analysis of SB 175 from that of the SRL, read an analysis of SB 175 & Confiscation Statutes/Abuse by Mr. Arnold Gaunt, volunteer with Forfeiture Endangers American Rights, at the recent debate at BYU (cited in the letter).  To learn more about this ongoing battle, see the Property Rights section of our Issues & Alerts page.



Accountability Utah recipe: Take our information and opinion, research their information and opinion (if it is available), and then examine the law and draw your own conclusions.  If you have comments or suggestions, please email us at info@accountabilityutah.org.


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