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Libraries ordered to destroy US pamphlets

Page 2 of 2 -- She declined to discuss the content of the pamphlets but said "they were never intended for public distribution. They were developed for internal use."

Margolis said he sought an explanation of the directive from an official in the federal Office of Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering, who told him that some information in the pamphlets could disclose legal strategy.

But he said the official conceded that much of the information has been publicly available for at least four years.

Lester Joseph, head of that federal office, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

McDermott said federal law allows government documents created for internal use to be included in the depository system if they are considered "educational" or serve another public interest.

"We are going to push the Department of Justice on this," she said. "This material is already out there. Some of these documents are merely compilations of federal statutes. You can find this stuff in law offices and law libraries across the country. We just don't know the rationale for this."

The pamphlets contain detailed legal research on asset forfeiture law, including statutes and case histories on the legal means of seizing cash, cars, houses, boats, and other property of convicted drug dealers and other criminals.

The materials, dated from 2000 to 2004, include documents and instructions that take prosecutors from "the drafting of the forfeiture allegation . . . to post-trial phases of a criminal forfeiture case."

The pamphlets were written by the Justice Department's Office of Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering and seem to be a comprehensive resource for prosecutors handling forfeiture cases.

Margolis said the materials seemed very similar to the vast majority of other materials from the Government Printing Office.

"There is a precedent danger that if a handful of documents that appear innocuous -- the forfeiture statutes -- if these become subject to a casual or cavalier yanking, then what is next? Maybe it's things that are really critical and primary to people's livelihood, to their safety, or to their health," he said.

Margolis said he is particularly concerned about the process for determining which documents are excluded from libraries.

"I think at a minimum we are entitled to know the process, how these determinations are made, and whether excluding something is truly in the public interest," he said. "The public should get its day in court."

Sean P. Murphy can be reached at 

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