Prosecutor candidates are split on a controversial practice that could soon end in Indiana

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Evansville Courier & Press on 9/20/2022 by Thomas B. Langhorne

EVANSVILLE — With fresh legal news threatening to end a practice only Indiana allows, the winning candidate for Vanderburgh County prosecutor in November’s election may have a decision to make.

And the two contenders don’t agree on it.

Since 2008 the prosecutor’s office − first Stan Levco and then Nick Hermann − has contracted with local law firm Kahn, Dees, Donovan & Kahn (KDDK) to collect forfeiture money from the seizure of cash, cars and other property during arrests or searches by law enforcement. Most civil forfeiture actions stem from illegal drug activity.

KDDK gets 25% of the money it collects, plus reimbursement for expenses.

The Courier & Press reported last month that the law firm has been paid almost $453,000 since 2013, according to county auditor records. The auditor’s office isn’t required to keep expenditure claims for more than 10 years, and it hasn’t — so the total compensation to KDDK since 2008 is unknown. The rest of forfeiture collections are distributed to the prosecutor’s office and law enforcement agencies in the Evansville-Vanderburgh County Drug Task Force.

Indiana is the only state in the nation that allows the type of contract KDDK has with the Vanderburgh County Prosecutor’s Office. Critics of the practice point to a 2011 Indiana Court of Appeals ruling stating that a prosecutor “should not have a personal interest in (a) case separate from his professional role as prosecutor.”

“And that principle translates easily to Indiana’s system of contingency-fee forfeitures — where, by design, the (private) lawyers prosecuting the cases have a systemic incentive to maximize their personal income, not to do justice,” said Sam Gedge, an attorney for Washington, D.C.-area nonprofit public interest law firm The Institute for Justice.