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Roberts v. State of New Jersey Division of State Police

June 21, 2007

TROOPER RONALD ROBERTS, JR., PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF STATE POLICE, RESPONDENT-RESPONDENT.



On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 386 N.J. Super. 546 (2006).

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

(This syllabus is not part of the opinion of the Court. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for the convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Supreme Court. Please note that, in the interests of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized).

The issue before the Court in this appeal concerns the interpretation of the statutory time periods governing the internal discipline of State Troopers when that discipline is based on acts that also are the subject of criminal investigations.

In March 2003, State Trooper Ronald Roberts, Jr. was charged with assault and harassment by his girlfriend Dina Colasurdo. Roberts admits that the rules and regulations required him to report the incident to the State Police within four hours, but he failed to do so until six days later. When Colasurdo filed her domestic violence complaint with local police, she asserted that Roberts had broken her arm in an incident the previous October. Local police reported the charges to the State Police, who began an internal disciplinary investigation the same day. During the State Police investigation, Colasurdo stated that Roberts had planned to file a claim for her broken arm with his homeowners' insurance company to obtain coverage for her medical bills, by asserting that Colasurdo was injured in a fall down a flight of stairs. Because that activity would have constituted an attempt to defraud an insurance company, the State Police suspended its internal disciplinary investigation and turned the matter over to the Division of Criminal Justice, Office of Insurance Fraud Prosecutor, to conduct a criminal investigation.

Eventually, the domestic violence charges were dismissed, but the criminal insurance fraud investigation continued. On December 22, 2003, the Division of Criminal Justice advised the State Police in writing that the Office of Insurance Fraud Prosecutor had completed its criminal investigation and determined there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Roberts. The State Police then resumed its internal disciplinary investigation, which included an interview of Roberts on January 26, 2004. On February 17, 2004, the report of the internal investigation was forwarded to the Superintendent of the State Police. Three days later, the Superintendent authorized disciplinary charges against Roberts, which included a reprimand and a suspension. The disciplinary notice was served on Roberts on March 1, 2004.

Roberts challenged the disciplinary action as being untimely. He argued that the governing statute imposes a limit of forty-five days on the filing of any disciplinary charge, and that the charge against him was barred because it was filed more than forty-five days after the criminal investigation ended. The State Police argued that the statutory time limit does not start until the Superintendent, who is the person authorized to file a disciplinary charge, learns of "sufficient information" to support a charge; and that the time for filing a charge is suspended during a criminal investigation. The State Police argued that in this case, the forty-five days did not start to run until the Superintendent received the report of the internal investigation, which had not resumed until the criminal investigation ended in a decision not to prosecute Roberts.

In a published opinion, the Appellate Division rejected the timeliness challenge raised by Roberts. Roberts v. Div. of State Police, 386 N.J. Super. 546 (App. Div. 2006). The Supreme Court granted Roberts's petition for certification. The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hoens

Argued February 13, 2007

This matter requires us to consider the statutory framework governing timeliness of internal discipline of State Troopers. More specifically, we are called upon to consider timeliness in the context of disciplinary complaints based on acts that have been the subject of both internal and criminal investigations.

I.

A.

In March 2003, State Trooper Ronald Roberts, Jr. was charged with assault and harassment, and served with a temporary restraining order pursuant to the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 to -35, by his girlfriend Dina Colasurdo. Although Roberts admits that the rules and regulations governing State Troopers required him to report that incident within four hours of the event, he failed to do so until six days later.

As a part of the information Colasurdo gave to local police in connection with her domestic violence complaint, she asserted that Roberts had broken her arm in an incident during the previous October. Because of the nature of Colasurdo's allegations, the State Police were advised of the charges. The State Police therefore began an internal investigation on the day that Colasurdo filed her complaint.

During that investigation, Colasurdo revealed that Roberts had planned to file a claim for her broken arm with his homeowners' insurance company to seek coverage for her medical bills. In doing so, Roberts would claim that Colasurdo had been injured in a fall down a flight of stairs rather than in the domestic violence incident. Because that action would constitute an effort to defraud the insurer, the State Police suspended its internal disciplinary investigation and turned the ...


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