On appeal from a final decision of the Merit System Board, Department of Personnel, DOP Docket No. 2005-92.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Parrillo and Baxter.
Charles Leek appeals from a November 16, 2006 final administrative decision by the Merit System Board (Board) affirming the Department of Corrections' (Corrections) decision to suspend him without pay for thirty days. The Board found Leek guilty of the following infractions: conduct unbecoming an employee, violation of a rule or regulation, and intentional abuse or misuse of authority or position. We affirm.
Leek was employed as a Corrections Sergeant with the New Jersey Department of Corrections. He was assigned to A.C. Wagner Youth Correctional Facility, which was formerly designated as a "boot camp."
While still employed by Corrections in 2001, Leek was ordained as an associate pastor in the New Life Group Church. Two years later, he established the New Life Community Church and became its pastor. On January 12, 2003, Bernard LaMorgia showed up on the steps of Leek's church asking Leek and other church officials for help to change his life and overcome his crack cocaine addiction. Criminal charges were pending against LaMorgia in both Burlington and Camden counties at the time. Leek ministered to LaMorgia, who, according to Leek, made "great strides" in turning his life around.
On February 10, 2003, while employed by Corrections, Leek accompanied LaMorgia, who was out on bail, to the Camden County courthouse for LaMorgia's first appearance before the Superior Court judge assigned to handle LaMorgia's charges. At that time, Leek wore a yellow golf shirt bearing a Corrections "boot camp" insignia.*fn1
On September 5, 2003, Leek appeared on behalf of LaMorgia at his sentencing hearing in Burlington County for the purpose of seeking leniency. Leek addressed the judge, and in the course of his remarks, identified himself as a Corrections Sergeant.
In a letter dated December 2, 2003, to the sentencing judge in Camden County, Leek asked the judge to be lenient with LaMorgia on his Camden County charges. The letter was written on church letterhead and stated the following:
My name is Rev. Charles R. Leek Jr. and I am writing this letter in reference to the sentencing phase of Mr. Bernard LaMorgia. I am the Pastor of Kingdom Life Ministries in Westhampton, New Jersey. . . . I am also employed as a Sergeant for State of New Jersey Department of Corrections. I am currently a shift commander at the Stabilization and Reintegration Program formally known as the S.R.P. Boot Camp.
I first became acquainted with Mr. LaMorgia in November 2002 while ministering at Burlington County Jail. During that time he showed great interest in receiving help. In the beginning of January, four days after being released from Burlington County Jail, he came to Liberty Tabernacle asking for help with changing his life. On January 12, 2003, Mr. LaMorgia voluntarily entered the New Life Transitional Group Home.
New Life Transitional Group Home was a program for men. It involved many aspects that encourage change within a man's life. . . . Needless to say as a pastor I loved these men, but I am also a Drill Sergeant for [the] State Department of Corrections Adult Bootcamp and I demanded and I demanded a lot from them. Many men did not stay. For those that chose to stay, I demanded integrity in every area of their lives.
While in this program, Mr. LaMorgia made great strides in changing his life. . . . [examples of how he changed his life]. Therefore I am requesting that during the sentencing phase of Mr. LaMorgia, you take in[to] consideration not only what Mr. LaMorgia has done up to this point to change his life, but also what is best for the true transformation of the whole man in this particular case. Mr. LaMorgia is about to take a plea bargain with the court for the crimes he has committed and is ready to take responsibility for. This plea is for a 6 1/2 year State Prison Sentence. As a Correction Sergeant, I believe this sentence is more than fair, but I have reservations as to whether this would be best for Mr. LaMorgia or society in this case. I know that on this sentence Mr. LaMorgia will probably make parole in about 3 1/2 years. He will more than likely be place[d] in one of our full minimum camps within a short period of time. This is hardly hard time, yet it is unproductive time. As you and I know both know, the system is not set up for those that are truly trying to transform their lives. Therefore I would like to request, that if at all possible these months not be served in vain, but rather be served in some capacity outside of incarceration. He has begun to make great strides in his life and I would hate to lose the ground we have gained.
As public servants it is often difficult not to lose sight of why we serve. We serve not only to protect the public today and to ensure justice through punitive measures but also to transform lives to ensure a better society for tomorrow. This is why the law gives us certain lea ways [sic] to weigh out justice differently according to each particular situation. I believe this is one of those situations. I believe we can do more in this case by not taking away hope.
We can hope and believe that a man can change, and then give him the opportunity to walk it out [sic]. The law in this case gives us the opportunity to believe and take this chance. You can sentence Mr. LaMorgia in such a way that if he were to fail, the certainty of State Prison time would befall him, yet still give him the opportunity to succeed. I believe this would be the most productive path to take, both for Mr.
LaMorgia and society at whole. Society can only benefit in the end if Mr. LaMorgia succeeds in life.
Sincerely, Rev. Charles R. Leek Jr.
An assistant Camden County prosecutor filed a written complaint on March 5, 2004, with the Commissioner of Corrections about Leek's conduct in the Camden County case. Leek had appeared with LaMorgia in court in Camden a total of three times.
On April 19, 2004, Corrections served Leek with a preliminary notice of disciplinary action seeking a ninety-day suspension and charging him with the following violations: (1) conduct unbecoming a public employee, N.J.A.C. 4A:2-2.3(a)(6) and Human Resources Bulletin (HRB) 84-17 as amended, C11; (2) other sufficient cause, N.J.A.C. 4A:2-2.3(a)(11),*fn2 violation of a rule, regulation, policy, procedure, order, or administrative decision, HRB 84-17 as amended, EO1; and (3) other sufficient cause, N.J.A.C. 4A:2-2.3(a)(11), intentional abuse or ...