By Wayne Sayles – Ancient Coin Collecting …..
In forfeiture proceedings currently before the United States District Court in Baltimore, the government has prompted genuine concern about the nature of justice in America today. Summarizing its reply to the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild’s answer to the government’s motion to strike the ACCG defense, United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein asserted the following: “Stated simply, Claimant has had its chance over the last three years to object to implementation of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act on every ground it could think of.”
While the language of the legal profession and the courts is admittedly complex (some might say convoluted) “simply stated” facts ought to be clear enough to every person of even modest education and intellect. Having enjoyed more than 18 years of private and public education and another several years of technical education in my 70 years of life, I thought I might be able to digest and understand something simply stated. Apparently I was wrong.
The ACCG imported a group of common low-grade bronze coins of Cypriot and Chinese types in 2009 as a challenge to the U.S. import restrictions placed on coins from these countries under provisions of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act. That Act, passed by Congress and signed into law in 1983 after more than a decade of intense debate and fine tuning, is a well thought out tool for the application of U.S. government resources in times and circumstances of significant threat to the cultural heritage of fellow signatories to the 1970 UNESCO convention. It worked fairly well until 2007, when the U.S. State Department chose to ignore the carefully crafted provisions of the law and march to its own drum, or more accurately to the drum of academic archaeologists. The events that followed have been enough to test one’s faith in American government on a scale far wider than that covered by CCPIA.
Stated simply, as attorney Rosenstein would say, the State Department did not follow the law. Not only did they not follow it, they flatly ignored many provisions of it. Their audacity did not go without notice. It was criticized roundly by members of the State Department’s own Cultural Property Advisory Committee and led to the resignation of at least one member and public criticism by more than one former chairperson. The State Department Inspector General declined to investigate the matter. University of Miami law professors published scathing criticisms of State’s “Extralegal” actions on at least two occasions in national law journal articles. National media reporters for The Washington Post, The New York Times, Art Journal, The Wall Street Journal and other publications raised serious and legitimate questions that went unanswered. More than a dozen legislators voiced their concerns to State Department leadership, only to be snubbed.
One might think that this widespread concern would merit review by someone in the government hierarchy—but not so. Contrary to attorney Rosenstein’s assertion, the ACCG challenge in Baltimore was dismissed without an opportunity to depose witnesses or fully argue the points beyond the preliminary phase. The judge ruled that the case was not judiciable — in other words, the court was not empowered to decide whether the law had been adhered to or had been violated. Finding this an unacceptable conclusion (what is the purpose of the court?), the ACCG appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals, which affirmed the dismissal without even hearing the particular details of the argument. The ACCG then petitioned the United States Supreme Court to hear the case and was one of the 95 or so percent of petitioners who are rejected. The Supreme Court did not weigh in at all – either way. There was never any litigation, only preliminary filings and dismissals. That can hardly be called justice.
So, the statement by attorney Rosenstein that ACCG “…had its chance over the last three years to object to implementation of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act on every ground it could think of” is inaccurate, insensitive and unconscionable for a representative of the U.S. government that exists to serve the people by assuring justice without discrimination. The judge in Baltimore, the same judge that decided three years ago that this case was not judiciable, will decide whether to strike the ACCG defense and order the forfeiture of these coins. The coins themselves, as attorney Rosenstein himself has argued, are not worth the time and effort the government has put into seizing them. But, the idea that government bureaucracy is above the law that guides all others in America is certainly worth challenging and the ACCG has never complained about the considerable cost, time and effort required to do that. One can only hope that justice will prevail and the case will at least be heard without a perfunctory dismissal that merely rubber stamps bureaucratic excess.