Elizabeth, NJ- Public employees are held to a higher standard than employees of private companies. When these employees act inappropriately or break a law while on the job, they face official misconduct charges. Sometimes there is confusion about who is considered a public employee. In a recent New Jersey Supreme Court case, justices were asked to clarify when a person can be considered a public employee and is subject to the state’s official misconduct laws.
The case, State of New Jersey vs. Brandon T. Morrison, involved an EMT who served as the treasurer of the Pemberton First Aid Emergency Squad. The Squad is a privately owned non-profit which had a contract with Pemberton Township to provide emergency ambulance services for the municipality on an as needed basis.
In 2011, spending irregularities were discovered that were linked to more than $5,000 in unauthorized purchases made by Morrison. The Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office indicted Morrison on several charges including third-degree theft by deception, third-degree theft by computer, third-degree misapplication of entrusted property, and second-degree official misconduct, which can carry up to ten years of incarceration.
In the trial court, Morrison entered a motion to dismiss the second-degree official misconduct charge arguing that a volunteer EMT who works for a private entity is not considered a “public servant” under New Jersey’s Official Misconduct Statute N.J.S.A. 2C:30-2.
Under the statute, a public servant is any officer or employee of government including legislators and judges or a person serving as a juror, advisor or consultant who performs a government function. The New Jersey Supreme Court was asked to clarify if Morrison was considered a public servant under state law.
A public servant includes any officer or employee of government including legislators and judges as well as any person participating as a juror, advisor, consultant or otherwise, in performing a government function; it does not include a witness. The test is whether the person is performing a “government function.”
A trial court granted the motion to dismiss the official misconduct charge, and the appellate court affirmed, holding that the Pemberton Rescue Squad was not providing a governmental function which would “make it the equivalent of the government in the Township,” the opinion states.
The New Jersey Supreme Court agreed with the appellate court decision to dismiss the official misconduct charge, but Morrison’s other criminal charges remained.
The majority of justices wrote in the opinion, “A municipality’s contracting for emergency medical services through a private, non-profit first-aid squad does not convert the EMTs into public servants because they are not exercising authority of a uniquely governmental nature or performing a function exclusive to government in any traditional sense,” the opinion states.
As a criminal defense attorney in Elizabeth, New Jersey, I understand it is in the best interest of my clients to keep up with New Jersey Supreme Court decisions that could impact any of my client’s cases. I make sure I keep up with important court decisions, so I can provide my clients with an effective defense strategy. If you live in Elizabeth or another area of New Jersey, call my office at 973-453-2009, and we can arrange an initial case evaluation.
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