State v. Bennie Anderson
August 11, 2021
In this case, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided that the forfeiture of a state employee’s pension was constitutional. The employee had been convicted of crime while performing his official duties.
Defendant, Mr. Anderson, worked for the Jersey City Tax Assessor’s office. Normally, a property owner would have to file a formal application with the Zoning Board to request rezoning. Mr. Anderson accepted a $300 bribe to rezone a property from a two-unit to a three-unit dwelling. The person requesting this was cooperating with the federal government.
Mr. Anderson retired in March 2017, and received an early service retirement pension. In November 2017, he pled guilty to related charges for accepting the bribe in federal court. His sentence included being ordered to pay a fine. The Employees’ Retirement System of Jersey City reduced his pension. The State filed in court to have his entire pension forfeited.
The legal issues involved the U.S. Constitution, New Jersey Constitution, and a relevant New Jersey Statute. Both constitutions forbid the imposition of excessive fines. The relevant New Jersey statute provides that a public employee who is convicted of certain crimes forfeits their pension. In addition, the public employee must provide “honorable service” in the performance of their duties.
The Court found in the State’s favor. The Court decided that the pension forfeiture was not a “fine”. The Court looked to the legislative intent of the New Jersey Statute. The intent was that certain types of criminal offenses prevent someone from receiving a publicly funded pension in New Jersey. Mr. Anderson’s offense was one of these. Therefore, the forfeiture of Mr. Anderson’s pension was valid.
This case is quite important for anyone expecting to benefit from a public pension. Public employees are entrusted to conduct themselves honestly. Any violation of this trust is unacceptable to the courts. Even a small bribe can bring serious consequences. The government may use an informant to solicit a public employee to take a bribe, as in this case. Who initiates the unlawful transaction is not a legally relevant detail. While most people do not work for the State and are not expecting a publicly funded pension, those who are need to be aware of the consequence of any mis-step.
The Law Office of Eric M. Mark is located at:
201 Washington St.
Newark, NJ 07102
By appointment only: Jersey City, New Jersey
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