Tuesday, November 16, 2010

New Jersey Supreme Court rules that expungements do not negate bans on public employment

Public workers who commit crimes are barred from future public employment when the infractions involves their jobs — even if they later have their records expunged, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled on October 27, 2010.

"When a person is convicted of an offense that 'involves and touches upon' that person's public office, the obligatory forfeiture of public employment provisions of (state law) are triggered," Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto wrote for the majority. Those provisions say a person "shall be forever disqualified from holding any office or position of honor, trust or profit" in the state.

The case involves a former detective, identified in court papers only as D.H., who worked in the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office from 1985 to 1999. In June 1999, according to the decision, a local employer called and asked D.H. to conduct a criminal background check on a job applicant. D.H. checked the Criminal Justice Information System and found the prospective employee did have an arrest record.

The following month, representatives from the prosecutor's office and State Police questioned her, and she was charged in September 1999 with the disorderly persons offense of purposeful and unauthorized access of a computer. D.H. pleaded guilty and agreed to forfeit current and future public employment, the decision said.
Considering D.H.’s "unblemished past" and agreement to give up her job, a trial judge sentenced her to pay $110 in costs and penalties.

In 2008, D.H. sought to have her conviction expunged, according to court papers. In granting her request, a trial court noted "the purpose of expungement is the elimination of the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction imposed upon an otherwise law-abiding citizen," determined forfeiture of public employment was a "collateral consequence" and voided that disqualification as well.

The state lost an appeal when an appellate panel sided with the trial court. On October 27, 2010, New Jersey's highest court agreed D.H.'s record should be expunged, but a majority of five justices found her disqualification from public employment is a separate matter that stands. Justice Virginia Long dissented, saying the expungement also should have voided D.H.'s disqualification from public employment.

D.H.’s attorney, Robert Donaher, said his client committed "a minor infraction." He said the computer lookup was done for a "former member of law enforcement."

"She no longer has a criminal record," Donaher said, noting D.H. had no plans to seek a public-sector job.

"From a practical standpoint, she's vindicated."

Judge Edwin Stern did not participate in the case.

Source: http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/10/nj_supreme_court_rules_record.html

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