1933 gold double eagle case continues as court vacates ruling
- Published: Jul 31, 2015, 6 AM
Uncertainty continues to surround the fate of the Langbord family’s 10 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagles that were allegedly found more than a decade ago in a safe deposit box. The Federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals vacated an April 17 ruling that reversed a jury’s 2011 decision awarding the coins to the government. The result of the court’s most recent voiding of the prior decision is that both the government and the Langbord family will likely face off again.
More coverage: Court rules in favor of family over ownership of coins
The July 28 filing directed a rehearing en banc at the convenience of the court, where the court will hear arguments from the Langbord family. The Langbords contend that the coins could have been acquired legally, while the government contends that the family should not receive the ill-gotten gains from a theft at the Philadelphia Mint decades ago. Then, when the court schedules a disposition date, the panel will determine whether there will be oral argument and if so, the amount of time allocated for each side.
At the Federal Courts of Appeals, cases are typically heard before a panel of three judges selected from all of the judges in the court. En banc hearings are generally for complex cases and often are utilized in cases where the court’s decision would have broader consequences that would go beyond the scope of the case at hand. For example, while this case deals with 10 coins, it also deals with larger issues of a government’s right to take property and the intersection of forfeiture laws meant to protect individual property rights.
Pound the table
The government filed a petition for rehearing before the original three-judge panel and the court en banc on July 1 with a reply filed by the Langbord family on July 20. The Langbord reply, penned by lead attorney Barry Berke on behalf of Joan Langbord and her sons, Roy and David, started with stark language, writing: “It is often said in legal circles that when the facts are against you, pound the law; when the law is against you, pound the facts; and when the facts and the law are against you, pound the table. The government’s Petition for Rehearing (the “Petition”) contains much table pounding. Along the way, the government omits critical facts and misstates others, presents an inaccurate, distorted and misleading picture of the law, and improperly raises new arguments and cases not presented to the original Panel.”
The Langbord family’s core argument is that the Appellate Court’s April 17 decision in favor of the Langbords recognized that the case is about more than coins: that it is “about an unconstitutional abuse of power and holding the government accountable for its unlawful acts.” In their July 20 reply, the family requested that the rehearing en banc be denied because the April 17 decision “correctly finds that the Coins must be returned to the Langbord family as a result of the government’s illegal actions and a straightforward application of CAFRA’s clear timelines and penalties.” CAFRA refers to the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000, which is the relevant forfeiture statute applied in this case.
The 10 coins were allegedly discovered more than a decade ago in a safe deposit box originally belonging to Joan’s father, Philadelphia dealer and jeweler Israel Switt. In 2004 the Langbords told the Mint that the coins existed and submitted them for authentication. The Mint retained the coins, and the Langbords sued the government in 2006, asking for the coins’ return. Rulings before the July 2011 jury trial shifted the burden of proof to the government in some ways, including requiring the government to show that the coins were likely stolen from the Mint. On July 20, 2011, a jury ruled unanimously in favor of the government and the decision was affirmed in 2012.
An April 17, 2015, ruling from the three-judge Appellate Court panel overturned the jury’s verdict and ordered the coins returned to the family. The government’s reply was that the coins should not be returned to “the family of a thief” and that individuals should not be able to benefit from the ill-gotten gains of a criminal. Further, the government contended that the decision would limit the government’s ability to forfeit property used in criminal activities and would negatively impact the government’s ability to protect government property.
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