About a week and a half ago, I asked Attorney General Peter Kilmartin’s office for a listing of civil and criminal asset forfeiture data. Actually, to be more accurate, I called the office, spoke with two different people to ensure that I requested things properly, and then I made the request. During none of my conversations did anybody indicate that this information would be difficult or time consuming to collect, and I noted that expedience would be appreciated. In fact, I tailored my request to cover only the time period for which I was told information was readily accessible.
Well, Monday morning, this arrived in my email inbox:
Dear Mr. Katz:
Your Access to Public Records Act (“APRA”) Request dated May 18, 2018 has been forwarded to me for response. You seek:
“A listing (preferably in the format of a digital spreadsheet, such as Microsoft Excel) of all programs involving civil or criminal asset seizure and forfeiture with which the Attorney General’s office interacts, including the following information:
- Relevant agency
- Amount seized
- Amount forfeited
- Category (e.g., narcotics, Department of Environmental Management, fisheries, firearms…or whatever taxonomy is used)
- Entities receiving the funds”
By email dated May 23, 2018, you confirmed the timeframe requested is from August 2012 through the date of your request.
Due to the difficulty in searching for and retrieving or copying the requested records, as well as the number of other APRA requests pending, it is necessary to extend the time to respond an additional twenty (20) business days. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 38-2-3(e). I hope to respond to your request in the near future.
Lisa A. Pinsonneault | Special Assistant Attorney General
Take special note of the time line. Prior to May 18, I’d discussed with Ms. Pinsonneault and another AG employee what time frame interested me, yet she appears to have started the clock for her office’s 10-day response requirement three business days after my request, apparently on the grounds that I clarified the request at that time.
The AG’s office is surely aware that my organization, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity supports legislation currently under consideration in the General Assembly to reform asset forfeiture laws, and that the legislative session is winding down. In those circumstances, with advance notice that a quick response was desired, the attorney general has asserted the need to extend the period for response until July, when the legislative session will likely be over.
Not coincidentally (we can safely infer), the attorney general’s office regularly receives over $100,000 from a single forfeiture program alone. If anybody is looking for proposed reforms of Rhode Island’s APRA law, I’d suggest taking the responsibility to fulfill requests away from the government agencies that might benefit from a delay and giving it to an independent entity.