three-judge panel at Philadelphia’s Federal Court of Appeals heard
oral arguments Nov. 19 from the government and the Langbord family. It
was the latest installment in the decade-long saga of determining who
owns the 10 1933 Saint-Gaudens $20 double eagles that were allegedly
found by the Langbord family in a safe deposit box.
family is appealing a July 20, 2011, jury decision at a federal trial
court that returned a verdict in favor of the government on its
forfeiture claim for the coins.
panel, led by Chief Judge Theodore McKee and Circuit Judges Marjorie
Rendell and Dolores Sloviter, was especially lively as it questioned
the Langbord’s attorney, Barry H. Berke, and Robert A. Zauzmer, who
represented the government.
Sloviter said the case “should be a movie” and Chief Judge McKee asked
who would play Berke in the movie. Berke replied, “Hopefully there’s a
happy ending for whoever plays me.”
contended that the government thought it could ignore the law. He
summarized the government’s logic as, “Because we really, really
believe we were right here, we didn’t have to comply with CAFRA [the
relevant forefeiture stature].”
sides continued their arguments made in briefs filed with the court in
August. The government maintains that no 1933 double eagles were ever
lawfully issued to the public and the jury made an accurate decision
based on relevant evidence. The Langbord family contends that the
declaratory action that identified the coins as government property
should not have been allowed and that a jury, not a judge, should have
made that determination.
Court of Appeals will review the trial and its application of the law,
and the jury’s decision. If it finds an error that contributed to the
trial court’s decision, the court may reverse that decision or order a
new trial. In an appeal, the court accepts facts as they were
presented in the trial court.
parties were directed to file a transcript of the oral argument by
Dec. 3. For civil cases in this court the average time from oral
argument to decision is just under three months. The overall rate of
reversal is a slim 9.4 percent.
Sloviter asked if a new trial would satisfy Berke, and he replied that
the principal remedy he seeks is the return of the coins to the
family. In the alternative, Berke requested a new trial without the
admission of certain evidence that Berke characterized as unfairly
prejudicial against the Langbord family’s arguments.
learn more about the arguments presented, see Coin World's story. To listen to the oral
arguments, visit here.
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