Ninety prosecutors were initially named in the suit, but filings against 12 were dismissed.
The lawsuit, filed by Indianapolis law firm Roberts and Bishop, alleged the prosecutors "have regularly violated the Indiana False Claims Act, Indiana Code 5-11-5.5-1, by for years failing to turn over proceeds from the amount of law enforcement costs to the Treasurer of the State of Indiana for deposit in the common school fund as required by IC 34-25-1-4."
Adam Lenkowsky, an attorney for the law firm, is the plaintiff in the case, which alleged approximately $17 million has been fraudulently "kept by law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and private attorneys hired by prosecutors to file civil forfeiture actions, money that was required to be paid into the common school fund as required by Indiana law," during the past two years.
In the suit, Lenkowsky wanted the money to be refunded into the school fund.
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller became attorney on behalf of the state choosing to defend the prosecutors.
On Jan. 28, Zoeller's office argued multiple grounds for why the plaintiff's lawsuit lacked merit and ought to be dismissed.
On Tuesday, Marion Superior Civil Court 13 Judge Timothy Oakes granted the Attorney General's motion to dismiss the lawsuit, and also deemed as moot the plaintiff's motion to remove the Attorney General as the prosecutors' counsel in the case.
"We respect the right of anyone to have a public policy difference with the way state laws long have been interpreted and enforced; but to wrongly accuse prosecutors of fraud is misleading and unfair to the public servants who protect us all every day," Zoeller said in a press release. "The court's order made it clear that the plaintiff's attorneys did not represent the State of Indiana and did not have legal standing to bring this suit, and so we are pleased this meritless case was dismissed."
According to the Order on Pending Motions, Oakes cited Lenkowsky pursued the legal matter using the wrong statute. Lenkowsky filed a Quo Tam actions, which is a statute that encourages "whistleblowers" to report those making false monetary claims against the government and has history dating back to when the government was sold bad mules.
"While Mr. Lenkowsky may have chosen the wrong legal mule to ride here to pursue this matter, the merits of the issue at heart of the matter do not deserve to be ignored," the judge wrote, citing the "relative lack of any logic or consistency in the assessment of law enforcement costs across the state."
Zoeller has taken action to clarify how forfeitures are handled.
"Having issued our own legal opinion months before this suit was filed, we agree with the Court that the system of forfeitures in Indiana is in need of consistency and should be reviewed. The place to revise an outdated and vague civil forfeiture law is not the judicial branch, as the plaintiff contended, but instead the legislative branch," Zoeller said. "That is why my office has recommended the Indiana General Assembly pass Senate Bill 215, which seeks to reform the disposition of funds forfeited by criminals through civil proceedings. The details are being refined by the legislature, but I support creating a clear, unambiguous method of calculating the civil forfeiture funds that law enforcement and schools can receive."
Senate Bill 215 is currently being reviewed at the Indiana General Assembly.