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In the Matter of U.S. Currency Totaling $7,209.00 v. the State of Wyoming

May 30, 2012

IN THE MATTER OF U.S. CURRENCY TOTALING $7,209.00: JOSEPH LIBRETTI AND FRANK A. HOHLIOS, APPELLANTS (CLAIMANTS),
v.
THE STATE OF WYOMING, APPELLEE (PLAINTIFF).



Appeal from the District Court of Natrona County The Honorable Catherine E. Wilking, Judge

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Golden, Justice.

Before KITE, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, VOIGT, and BURKE, JJ.

NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in Pacific Reporter Third. Readers are requested to notify the Clerk of the Supreme Court, Supreme Court Building, Cheyenne, Wyoming 82002, of any typographical or other formal errors so that correction may be made before final publication in the permanent volume.

[¶1] This is an appeal from a forfeiture order entered by the district court against a total of $116,584.43 and certain items of personal property. The cash and personal property were seized from several individuals because of their alleged use in violation of the Wyoming Controlled Substances Act. Appellants Joseph Libretti (Libretti) and Frank Hohlios (Hohlios) claim $7,209.00 of the cash seized and appeal the forfeiture order, contending that the district court erred in holding an evidentiary hearing without ruling on their motions to dismiss or for a more definite statement, and in denying them the opportunity to file answers, conduct discovery, file summary judgment motions or avail themselves of the right to a jury trial. We affirm.

ISSUES

[¶2] Libretti and Hohlios filed a joint brief on appeal, acting pro se, and presented the following issues for review:

I. The District Court erred in not ruling on the claimants' Motion to Dismiss/Motions for more Definite Statement.

II. The District Court erred in not allowing claimants to file an Answer, conduct discovery, and file Motions for Summary Judgment.

III. The District Court erred in not ruling on, and not granting, Claimants' Motions for more Definite Statement.

IV. Claimants were wrongly denied a Jury trial.

V. If the August 10, 2011 proceeding was only an evidentiary hearing, as Plaintiff claims, and not a trial, then the Court lacked authority to enter its judgment.

VI. Claimant Frank Hohlios was unfairly denied his right to be heard at trial.

FACTS

[¶3] On February 16, 2011, the State of Wyoming (State) filed in district court a Verified Complaint For Forfeiture In Rem (Forfeiture Complaint). The Forfeiture Complaint alleged that $116,584.43, three vehicles, and one firearm, seized from several different individuals, had been used in violation of the Wyoming Controlled Substances Act, and that the items were therefore subject to forfeiture pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 35-7-1049. Most of the persons from whom the property was seized did not respond, and default judgment was entered against those individuals. Libretti and Hohlios, who between them claimed $7,209.00 of the seized cash, both timely responded to the Forfeiture Complaint with the filing of motions to dismiss or in the alternative for a more definite statement. Hohlios filed his motion on March 28, 2011, and Libretti filed his motion on May 23, 2011.

[¶4] On June 1, 2011, the district court contacted Libretti by letter concerning his filing. Through that letter, the district court directed Libretti to submit a request for a hearing, as follows:

I acknowledge receipt of your letter concerning the referenced case. Your letter has been filed in the court file in the matter and a copy forwarded to [the State].

Please submit a request for setting, requesting a hearing on your motion. Upon receipt, a hearing will be set to allow you to present the matter to the Court for consideration.

[¶5] On June 8, 2011, the State filed a Motion for Setting on Complaint for Forfeiture, requesting that the court set the Forfeiture Complaint for hearing, and on June 10, 2011, the district court issued a Notice of Setting. The Notice of Setting notified the parties that a hearing on the Forfeiture Complaint had been set for August 10, 2011. Specifically, the Notice of Setting provided:

NOTICE IS GIVEN that Wednesday, August 10, 2011, at 10:30 a.m. or as soon thereafter as the matter can be heard, is hereby set for a hearing on the Complaint for Forfeiture for one hour before Judge Catherine E. Wilking. [Emphasis in original.]

[¶6] On June 15, 2011, Libretti filed a motion to appear at "Motion Hearings" by telephone, and on June 20, 2011, the court issued an Order Granting Motion to Appear by Telephone, which stated, in relevant part:

NOW, THEREFORE, IT IS ORDERED that the Motion for Telephonic Appearance at Motion Hearings, be, and hereby is, granted.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Joseph V. Libretti, Jr. shall appear at the hearing on the Complaint for Forfeiture scheduled for August ...


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