Marbury vs. Madison . . . Brown vs. Board of Education . . . Miranda . . . Bakke . . .
And United States of America vs. Sixty-seven Containers of Brass Door Knockers?
Improbably enough, that is the title of Civil Action No. 79-201-A, filed last month in U.S. District Court in Alexandria.
Unlike the cases involving Marbury, Brown and friends, however, the matter of the door knockers is not a suit against anybody or anything. The case is simply a legal step the federal government must take to get into position to sell about 6,000 door knockers it does not own.
"It's really just a formality," said Assistant U.S. Attorney George Williams, who filed the legal action.
Still, the case provides a rare look at what happens to the wages of sin. In this case, the "wages" are 67 wooden cartons that unarguably contained door knockers. The "sin" is that they also secretly held the hashish confiscated in a major drug arrest on Dec. 4, 1977, at Dulles International Airport. Nearly half a ton of hashish and $125,000 in cash were seized by federal agents. Eleven people were charged in the case, including Donald D. (Hillbilly) Haynie. of Nashville. Federal prosecutors said Haynie had grossed $52 million in six years of international drug dealing.
The hashish was secreted underneath door knockers in 47 of the 67 seized cartons, according to testimony later given at Haynie's trial. The entire shipment had originated in New Delhi, according to testimony.
The owner of record of the 67 cartons was a 35-year-old Atlanta businessman named William Simon Coury, according to testimony. Coury pleaded guilty last November to smuggling conspiracy charges.He testified for the government against Haynie and others, and is now serving a six month sentence at a half-way house in Atlanta.
Because Coury had not fully and accurately described the nature of his shipment on customs declaration forms, the entire shipment, minus the hashsh, was turned over to the U.S. Customs Service, under terms of customes law.
For more than a year the 67 containers, all long ago resealed, have been gathering dust in a customs warehouse on Bladensburg Road NE. Ernest Bennett, the customs service's deputy district director, said that because the containers are sealed, "I can't even tell you how many knockers they contain. But they're all heart-shaped, and they're all brass so far as I can tell."
Coury, as international importer before his arrest, had indicated an interest in retaining the knockers, according to Williams.
"He has said he would like to get them back, but there's really no vehicle for him to do that," Williams said. "I'm going to try to work out a deal with this guy [to resell the knockers to him] . . . If I can't, and if there is no other claim, I'll try to sell them in a way advantageous to the government."
Coury did not return a reporter's repeated telephone calls.
Anyone claiming ownership of all or part of the shipment of knockers has until April 9 to contact the U.S. marshal's office in Alexandria. If no one does so, an auction will be arranged, probably sometime this spring, Williams said.