US Attorney Carmen Ortiz

United States Attorney Carmen Ortiz, infamous for being the overzealous prosecutor in the Aaron Swarz case, was slapped down in court this week for overreach.   It appears to be a pattern:

A judge this week struck down a US government scheme to seize a Tewksbury, Mass., motel because it had become a haven for drug dealers, bolstering concerns about whether US prosecutors in some cases have too much power.

The decision in the long-running forfeiture case comes as the US attorney in Boston, Carmen Ortiz, is already under fire for her role in the death of Internet hacker Aaron Swartz, who killed himself on Jan. 11 as he faced a potentially long prison term for what many in the technology field have noted was nothing more than a breach of a contract involving Internet documents.

In this case, the judge rebuked Ortiz for playing drug warrior with a small motel owner whose only crime appeared to be doing business in a poorly policed community:

In the Motel Caswell case, U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith Gail Dein on Thursday dismissed the government’s forfeiture action against owner Russ Caswell, ruling that Mr. Caswell took reasonable steps to prevent crime while “trying to eke out an income from a business located in a drug-infested area that posed great risks to the safety of him and his family.”

“The Government’s resolution of the crime problem should not be to simply take his Property,” Ms. Dein wrote.

The headline-grabbing conduct of the politically ambitious Ortiz has launched a nationwide debate about the role of the prosecutor in the American justice system. Ortiz’s record is being criticized by both journalists and legal scholars. The essential question being asked: is Carmen Ortiz qualified to do her job?

Photo by Department of Justice under Public Domain