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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Easton's Seizure Law, Aimed at Prostitution, Faces Unhappy Ending

Flamboyant Easton attorney Gary Asteak, one of Northampton County's finest criminal defense lawyers, could probably earn a living as a celebrity look-a-like. He discovered this in his younger years, during a holiday out West. The hotel he was staying kept giving him outstanding treatment, like chocolate on his pillows and complimentary bottles of wine. Only when he was leaving did he learn that the manager was convinced that Gary was actually Frank Zappa.

Last month, it happened again.

A few years older, Gary's appearance at Nazareth's Martin guitar celebration sparked rumors that Willie Nelson was in the house.

In reality, Asteak is one of the sharpest legal minds in the Lehigh Valley, with a particular fondness for constitutional arguments and underdogs. Last year, Gary represented a libertarian who outraged the tender sensitivities of Washington Township police by flying his flag upside down. When his client was charged with insulting the American flag, Gary asked, "How the hell do you insult the American flag? What do you do, walk up to it and start cursing?"

The charges were dismissed.

Gary is also the attorney who, pro bono, represented a skaterboarder cited by Nazareth police for doing stunts in the unused portion of a basketball court.

The charges were dismissed.

Beginning to see a pattern?

Yesterday, Asteak challenged Easton's Seizure and Forfeiture Ordinance, enacted in July to stop johns from cruisin' the streets, looking for working girls. If caught, the john's car is taken. That should put a damper on the world's oldest profession, eh?

Asteak's lawsuit attacks the ordinance for four basic reasons.

First, it is preempted by state laws that already address the offense of soliciting prostitutes.

Second, taking someone's car away for a minor offense in many cases deprives that person of his livelihood. For that reason, seizure is cruel and unusual punishment. It is "grossly disproportional to the gravity of the offense."

Third, cars are being seized without notice or a prompt post-seizure hearing, and that violates due process. According to the ordinance itself, "Seizure without process may be made." What's even worse, it's up to the officer's discretion whether that car should actually be seized, which leads to uneven enforcement. Former Palmer top cop Nick DiVietro, who amazingly solicited an undercover cop at age 81, is already a beneficiary of this discretion. His Crown Victoria was returned.

Isn't that nice?

Finally, there is no real nexus between the crime and the vehicles seized. The vehicle is incidental, not instrumental, in the commission of the offense.

Gary's client is going to have a happy ending, just not the one he was expecting.


Anonymous said...

Asteak is right the law is whack. The drug seizure laws are bad enough but now every podunk municipalitiy wants to seize your property over minor violations. It was dumb law when enacted and it will be dumb law when it is struck down.

Anonymous said...

BOH are you in bed with Asteak now? Are you sharing chocalates in the same hotel with him? Seems like there is another wierd relationship on your part? BOH do you have a sexual problem? Are u gay? Are u really Dat's grandfather? I think there is a major problem here! Why don't your real children associate with you?

Bernie O'Hare said...

The trolls are out.

Anonymous said...

I wondered if this Ordinance would stand up to legal scrutiny. For municipalities trying to cross the line with over-zealous regulations, that's the problem with watch dog attorneys like Gary, who really give a damn about the law.

Anonymous said...

Bernie -

I think the Mayors of Allentown, Easton, and Bethlehem are trying to do something similar with the gun laws they proposed yesterday.

Firearm laws are the domain of the state. The proposed laws should not be passed.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:13:

There is a difference. In the case of prostitution, there are laws on the books from the state legislature.
With the ordinances proposed by the mayors to crack down on straw purchasers and illegal sales of guns, there are no state laws on the subject. In fact, the state legislature failed to enact laws in the last session.

The other difference is that state law allows local municipalities to enact laws to deal with illegal guns. The state law dealing with solicitation of prostitutes does not grant powers to local municipalities to change the penalty for violation of the law.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 9:57,

I think you're right. I know that a Philly ordinance is winding its way thru the courts. I'd wait for an answer there before adopting a law that can be reversed, although I agree w/ you about the difference.

Anonymous said...

Bernie & Anon 9:57 -

Thanks for the perspective. As Bernie said, perhaps it is best to wait to see how the court challenge turns out.

On the gun law subject itself though, the law they are proposing seems meaningless and politically motivated.

If I'm not mistaken, straw purchases are already illegal. If a person is still willing to make an (illegal) straw purchase, I'm sure that they wouldn't mind lying about having just "lost" the firearm in the past 72 hours. Also, it wouldn't cover straw purchasers "losing" their guns in the suburbs and then sell to someone in the city.

All in all, it seems like it will do little to stop crime. Here in Allentown, I'd prefer that my Mayor spends more time figuring out how the city can pay to get more cops on the street.

Chris Miller said...

Anonymous 9:13
Do you have a source for the commonwealth allowing the municipalities to make gun laws? I do not believe that is the case here. Philly had a number of anti-gun laws they were going to try and pass but they stopped when told it was unconstitutional. The NRA is in the process to overthrow the 'report your stolen gun law" passed in Philly. NRA should win that case.
Anonymous 9:57 is correct, there are laws on the books pertaining to straw purchases. There are tens of thousands of gun laws in this nation and we continue to find more ways to stop people from protecting themselve. All three of those mayors are nothing but blood sucking bleeding heart liberals Democrats who belive the first line of defense in home protection is a police officer.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Chris, No, my understanding is that those laws have been enacted and challenged. I'll look into it later.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't the SCOTUS decision overturning of the DC weapons ban settle the question of local bans?

At any rate, we should not rush to emulate any crime fighting law born in America's murder capital. Look at the place. Seriously.

Asteak is right about no taking cars for Dynamo Hums, and he's definitely Frank Zappa's doppelganger.

Bravo for a post that brings together politics, constitutional law, and Frank Zappa. It's why I read this space.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:17,

I don't usually resort to personal insults, but your post is asinine.

This is a substantive topic that concerns serious issues. It is the standard balancing act:

How do we toughen laws to eliminate a criminal problem - without exceeding reasonable standards of liberty and constitutional protections.

I don't know about Bernie's personal relationship, but your brain seems to have some serious dysfunctional problems.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:57.

You are incorrect. ONLY Harrisburg has authority regarding gun laws. Local government units do not.

Anonymous said...

so all the straw purchaser has to do now when confronted by the police as they trace the gun used in a crime back to the owner is sayn "oh, that gun was stolen out of my car" or "I los tthat gun a while ago."

The satte governs the treatment of legal guns - the Mayors seem to be saying what I believe is the difference in this case --- these guns, once lost or stolen, are illegal guns.

A law-abiding, responsible gun owner like myself, would report any of my weapons that are lost or stolen just to PROTECT ME and if stolen to collect from my insurance. This law is aimed at theose who don't report them because they aren't lost or stolen they are GIVEN to criminals to commit CRIMINAL acts.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 8:20, 9:13, 11:15, 6:04, 8:20, Chris & Joe,

Dudes, You are way ahead of me here. I will have to do a post about that Philly ordinance and the subsequent challenge along with what the LV mayors are considering. But I won't have it until next week. I'll be looking forward to your input then.

Joe, don't fret the troll. Thanks.

Anonymous said...


I "fret" anyone who tries to derail rational discourse and debate. That is the ENTIRE problem with our country and our state of politics.

You can be partisan and have radically different positions and have a rational debate.

Too many resort to personal insults, question motives, assign irrational 'reasons' for people's positions, lie and distort, bring up personal baggage (gee, who doesn't have any?), etc.