On appeal from the Superior Court, Chancery Division, Middlesex County.
Gaulkin, Bilder and A. M. Stein. The opinion of the court was delivered by Gaulkin, P.J.A.D.
Plaintiff Old Bridge Public Workers and Sanitation Union brought this action to confirm an arbitration award determining that the defendant Township of Old Bridge "did not have just cause to suspend and later discharge Gary Galvao." Rejecting the Township's contention that Galvao's discharge was mandated by N.J.S.A. 2C:51-2, the trial judge confirmed the award. The Township appeals.
Galvao, a mechanic employed by the Township and a member of the Union, pleaded guilty to two counts of possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute. N.J.S.A. 24:21-19a(1); N.J.S.A. 24:21-19b(3) (repealed by L. 1987, c. 106, § 25). He was sentenced to concurrent two-year probationary terms
with special conditions that he enter and complete an out-patient drug treatment program.
Just before sentence was imposed, the Township dismissed Galvao, apparently relying on Township Ordinance 3-3.3, which lists among "causes for removal" the "commission of a criminal act" and "conduct unbecoming a public employee." The Union promptly filed a grievance, which led to the arbitration. By decision issued December 31, 1987, the arbitrator held that Galvao's dismissal was without "just cause" within the meaning of Article III of the collective bargaining agreement between the Union and the Township. He directed that Galvao "is to be reinstated to his former position forthwith, but without any back pay or benefits."
The record does not indicate that any reference was made to N.J.S.A. 2C:51-2 either before or at the arbitration. On February 4, 1988, however, the Township business administrator advised Galvao that "a judgment of conviction for a third-degree offense under New Jersey Statute 2C:51-2 serves as an automatic basis for forfeiture of public office, position or employment," that the Monmouth County Prosecutor advised that "your conviction . . . is of a nature which compares to a third-degree offense" and accordingly that "you are deemed to have forfeited your employment as . . . of this date." The Union then filed this action.
The core question presented in the trial court and here is whether Galvao's convictions trigger the mandatory forfeiture of employment provided by N.J.S.A. 2C:51-2a(1):
A person holding any public office, position, or employment, elective or appointive, under the government of this State or any agency or political subdivision thereof, who is convicted of an offense shall forfeit such office or position if:
(1) He is convicted under the laws of this State of an offense involving dishonesty or of a crime of the third degree or above or under the laws of another state or of the United States of an offense or a crime which, if ...