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Not only did the Justice Department lose a bench trial in a criminal arms export case last fall, but now it must also contend with a judge’s decision to award legal expenses to the defendants in a related civil action under the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act. Defense attorneys are calling the recent move by U.S. District Judge Inge Johnson of Birmingham, Ala. — in favor of defense contractor Axion Corp. and its owner, Alexander Latifi — unprecedented. “It’s a revolutionary ruling and case,” says Henry Frohsin, the Birmingham attorney with Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz who, along with colleague James Barger, represented Axion and Latifi. Victories over the Justice Department in arms export enforcement cases are the exception, and rarer still is the awarding of legal fees, export law specialists say. Johnson will consider approving more than $500,000 in legal fees after attorneys submit their claims by April 23. Also pending before Johnson is a separate motion for award of defense fees in the criminal case brought under the Hyde Amendment, which allows defendants to recoup fees in errant prosecutions. A year ago, Latifi and his company were indicted and accused of passing militarily sensitive helicopter drawings to a prospective Chinese subcontractor, material the defense said was never properly labeled and was available on the Internet. Johnson absolved Axion and Latifi after a one-week trial, which revealed that the main government witness was being prosecuted for stealing from Axion.
Pedro Ruz Gutierrez can be contacted at [email protected].

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