In this case, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority (Authority) seeks application of the "Forfeiture of Public Office" statute to one of its employees. The novel issue is whether disorderly
person convictions for simple assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(a), and failure to make lawful Disposition of drugs, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(c), justify forfeiture of defendant's job as a turnpike utility worker. Defendant asserts that since these offenses are not related to his employment, forfeiture is unwarranted.
The facts are not largely disputed. On April 26, 1991, defendant consumed several prescription pills he had taken from his parent's home. Shortly thereafter, he operated a vehicle and was involved in an automobile accident. Following the accident, police arrested the defendant for operating a vehicle under the influence pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:4-50. As he was being placed in handcuffs, officers observed defendant holding a small plastic bag. A scuffle ensued as officers tried to retrieve the bag. The defendant struck the officers, as he threw himself to the ground. While on the ground, he consumed an additional number of pills. Defendant conceded he swallowed the pills to avoid getting caught with illegal drugs.
On October 29, 1991, Baber pleaded guilty to two counts of simple assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(a), failure to turn over drugs, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(c), and operating a motor vehicle while in possession of a controlled dangerous substance in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-49.1. At sentencing the traffic offense was merged into the disorderly person offenses and the defendant was placed on probation for two years. Mandatory drug and VCCB penalties were imposed. Defendant's driving privileges were suspended for six months.
The state's primary contention is that the nature of defendant's offenses and his behavior at the scene bear directly on his character and fitness to perform his duties effectively. Baber works under the immediate supervision of the toll collection department. He cleans turnpike buildings, booths, tunnels and the immediate plaza area at each interchange. He also assists in loading and unloading of toll collection supplies. The job requires a valid New Jersey driver's license. N.J.S.A.
2C:51-2, which governs the forfeiture of public employment, provides as follows:
a) A person holding any public office, position, or employment, elective or appointive, under the government of the 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 ...