On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 183 N.J. Super. 397 (1982).
For affirmance -- Justices Clifford, Handler, Pollock and Garibaldi. For reversal and remandment -- Justices Schreiber and O'Hern. Schreiber, J., dissenting. Justice O'Hern joins in this disposition but would hold the Rcoa applicable to the New Jersey Racing Commission.
[93 NJ Page 2] Respondent, Steven A. Maietta, applied to the New Jersey Racing Commission (Commission), the appellant before us, for
licensure as a groom. The Commission denied the application on the basis of Maietta's drug-related criminal record. The Appellate Division reversed and ordered that the Commission issue the license to Maietta. Maietta v. New Jersey Racing Comm'n, 183 N.J. Super. 397 (1982). It held that the Rehabilitated Convicted Offenders Act (RCOA), N.J.S.A. 2A:168-1 to -6, applies to the Commission's licensing function, and that under the circumstances the Commission erred in denying licensure to respondent after having adopted the findings of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Id. at 405-06. We granted the Commission's petition for certification, 91 N.J. 252 (1982). In affirming the judgment below we place considerable reliance on the reasoning of Judge Pressler's opinion for the Appellate Division, supplemented and varied only by what follows here.
The essential facts are adequately stated in the Appellate Division opinion as follows:
In May 1976 Maietta, then 23 years old and the holder of a groom's license issued by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, was indicted in New York State. The offenses with which he was charged, alleged to have occurred in December 1975, were possession of methaqualone and possession thereof with intent to distribute, possession of amphetamine-methamphetamine, and possession of diazepam. Under New York law, according to the indictment, methaqualone is a controlled dangerous substance of the sixth degree and the other two drugs he was charged with possessing are controlled dangerous substances of the seventh degree. Following the indictment, Maietta gave his full cooperation to the authorities and, apparently pursuant to a plea agreement, all charges were dismissed against him except possession of a seventh degree controlled dangerous substance. He was sentenced on January 14, 1977 to a three-year probationary term.
In 1976 an 11-count indictment was returned by the Union County New Jersey grand jury, the first count of which charges Maietta and nine others with conspiracy to distribute controlled dangerous substances. Maietta, unlike other of the codefendants, was not charged with any substantive offense, and his participation in the conspiracy was alleged to consist of the making of telephone calls in aid thereof. There appears to be no question that the same conduct formed the basis of both the New York and the New Jersey indictments against Maietta. He pleaded guilty to the New Jersey conspiracy charge and was sentenced in May 1977 to a suspended jail term of 300 days and one year's probation to run concurrently with the New York probationary term. The judge's written statement of reasons for the imposition of this sentence was, in full, that "defendant's role in this was minor in nature, in view of the overall circumstances."
While the record does not reveal the specific circumstances surrounding Maietta's offenses, it is undisputed that they had nothing to do with horseracing and that the drugs involved have nothing to do with horses. Nor is there any suggestion that Maietta is himself a drug user.
Following the New York conviction Maietta left his groom's employment at the Roosevelt Raceway and obtained a job at a turn-out or rest farm for standard bred horses with the approval of his probation officer. It further appears that his conduct while on probation was exemplary and that he was accorded an early discharge therefrom. In December 1977, just short of a year from the date of his New York conviction, he was successful in obtaining a New York State Certificate of Relief From Disabilities, and in September, 1978 the New York State Racing and Wagering Board restored his groom's license, leading to his reemployment in that position at Roosevelt Raceway and, since then, at the Monticello and Yonkers Harness Racetracks as well. In 1980, on his application supported by the endorsements of six active drivers and trainers, he was accorded membership in the
United States Trotting Association, which then granted him a trainer's license and a driver's license.
In view of the foregoing factual background and his New York record of successful rehabilitation and work experience following the conviction, Maietta, in December 1979, requested the New Jersey Racing Commission to review informally his qualifications for licensure as a groom. Informal discussions ensued during the course of which both the involved New York and New Jersey probation officials submitted letters to the Commission in support of Maietta's licensing request. Both letters recited the facts of his excellent probation record and concluded that he was fully rehabilitated. The New York probation officer, the Director of Probation of Nassau County, further stated that Maietta's "proposed employment will not be incompatible with the welfare of society," and the New Jersey probation officer, the Chief Probation Officer of Union County, concluded that in his opinion it did not seem that Maietta's "intended employment will be incompatible with the welfare of society." The Commission nevertheless advised Maietta in June 1980 that it was "reluctant" to grant him a New Jersey groom's license because of the drug related convictions. Maietta then requested a formal proceeding and the matter was referred as a contested case to an administrative law judge for hearing.
At the hearing the Commission did not challenge the applicability of RCOA to its licensing function but argued rather that it had not abused the discretion accorded it by RCOA in denying Maietta a groom's license. The administrative law judge disagreed. After reviewing and evaluating the facts, he concluded as follows:
Based upon the evidence comprising the entire record, I am unable to conclude as did the Racing Commission that simply because Maietta would be in contact with horses on a daily basis that the crimes for which he was convicted inexorably involve an adverse relationship to his proposed employment as a groom. While convictions for drug offenses certainly are of special concern in the racing industry, as well as in many other fields which are closely supervised, it would appear that the Racing Commission in this case did not make any special effort, if at all, to analyze the statutory factors contained in RCOA and
their relationship to the particular circumstances of Maietta's case. Rather, what the Racing Commission appears to have done is to deny the license application strictly on the basis of the convictions themselves without consideration of the surrounding circumstances. Since entering his pleas of guilty and his sentencing, Maietta has demonstrated a fine rehabilitation record. The fact that senior probation officials in two states have specifically so stated is significant.
Accordingly, based upon my independent review of the entire record in this matter, and taking fully into consideration the spirit and intent of RCOA, and after having had an opportunity to observe the applicant offering testimony, it is my opinion that the grant of a license to Maietta as a groom would not contravene the public interest. Since the preliminary determination by the Racing Commission did not take into account the several statutory factors contained in RCOA, it cannot be sustained.
I specifically find, that in view of the nature of the crimes for which Maietta was convicted, the circumstances of his involvement, the date of the criminal conduct, the isolated nature of the incident and the clear evidence of his rehabilitation, his license application is appropriate and should have been granted. I further find, from the evidence before me, that Maietta has demonstrated an ability to comply with the norms and requirements of society and that his ...