Growing up in Nampa as the son of a college professor at what was then Northwest Nazarene College, Dan Alban took a good look at what he wanted to do with life.
He thought when he went away to college, he might become a writer or an English professor. Instead, he ended up as an attorney litigating cases for the Institute for Justice at its national headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. It didn’t come as a big surprise.
“While in high school, I had the opportunity to be part of the YMCA Youth Court program in Boise run by Judge Charles Hay and his wife, Bobbi Hay,” Alban said. “It was an opportunity to act as an attorney in a real case involving a juvenile facing minor charges related to alcohol, tobacco or marijuana.”
Alban liked the program so much that he signed on as a volunteer.
“I was supposed to be there for just one night, but I loved it,” he said. “I ended up volunteering to be a student coordinator for the entire year.”
Alban was also influenced by his reading.
“Like many attorneys who do public interest and civil rights work, I was inspired by the character of Atticus Finch in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’” Alban said.
Today, after graduating from Berry College in Rome, Georgia, in 2000 and Harvard Law School in 2006, Alban is an attorney at the Institute for Justice, litigating constitutional cases to protect people the areas of property rights and economic liberty.
“I’m not sure how I first heard about the Institute for Justice, but IJ really inspired me because it defends constitutional rights that are often neglected by other civil rights firms,” Alban said.
During law school, he had the opportunity to clerk at IJ in the summer of 2004.
“I got to help research and write some of the brief in IJ’s First Amendment lawsuit against the Commodity Futures Trading Commission,” he said. “The judge who wrote the appellate opinion was John Roberts, now chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.”
When there was an opportunity to work for IJ, Alban said he took a substantial pay cut.
“It’s a lot easier to get out of bed in the morning when you know what you’re doing today is going to make a difference in an individual person’s life and not just help a big corporation that has a disagreement with another big corporation,” he said.
The work that Alban does deals with the matters of eminent domain abuse and civil forfeiture.
“Eminent domain has been called ‘the despotic power’ by the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Alban. “The Constitution permits the government to use eminent domain to seize property for ‘public use,’ such as a road, fire station or public park. Eminent domain abuse is when the government uses the power of eminent domain to take property from one private person in order to give it to another.”
Eminent domain abuse often involves a developer or a big box store because they tend to generate more tax revenue for the government.
“This abuse violates people’s property rights to stay in their longtime family home or to keep operating their small business or farm for as long as they please,” Alban told us. “It also tends to victimize the vulnerable — eminent domain abuse is frequently used against the poor and politically disenfranchised on behalf of wealthy developers and corporations.”
Civil forfeiture gives law officers the right to take and keep personal property based solely on the suspicion of involvement with a crime and requires no legal charges ever be filed.
The Institute for Justice has made combating civil forfeiture and eminent domain abuse its top priorities, he said.
“We level the playing field by giving them top-notch legal counsel for free,” Alban said.
A recent case Alban worked on involved a naturalized American citizen, Eh Wah, who was driving through Muskogee County, Oklahoma carrying $53,000 in cash, earned by his band to send to Burma and Thailand to support orphans and Christian refugees. Stopped for a broken taillight, Eh Wah saw no problem consenting to a vehicle search. What followed was a six-hour detention by the law officers, an erroneous alert by a drug dog and the seizure of the $53,000 collected for the orphans and refugees. Worse yet, Eh Wah was charged with the felony possession of drug proceeds even though he was totally innocent.
“We only had two weeks to get statements from the people in Thailand and Burma who could back up Eh Wah’s innocence,” Alban said. “One problem was that those countries do not have standard notaries public, but we had to find a way to have their statements validated to be used in the American court.”
With the help of coverage on the Washington Post website, the Muskogee District Attorney decided to drop the charges and give back the money six hours after the case went public.
When IJ wins, it’s a win for everyone who might someday find themselves the victims of eminent domain abuse or civil forfeiture, Alban said.
He still maintains connections in the state where he grew up.
“I’m working with the Idaho Freedom Foundation and the ACLU of Idaho to bring about civil forfeiture reform in Idaho because it’s an issue that brings together folks on both sides of the political spectrum,” he said. “Idaho has terrible civil forfeiture laws. Idaho received a D- from IJ’s Policing for Profit report last year.”
Recently in Nampa for a class reunion, Alban still has family in the Nampa area.
“My mother splits her time between Idaho City and Nampa,” he said. “She runs the Isaiah Foundation, which puts on the Mountain Kids Day Camp for a week every summer in Idaho City. My brother is a manager at Trader Joe’s. He and his wife and my two nephews live in Boise.”