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State v. Mandi

September 9, 2009

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
JOSEPH MANDI, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Gloucester County, Docket No. L-263-08.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued September 1, 2009

Before Judges Messano and Alvarez.

Defendant Joseph Mandi appeals from the May 30, 2008 order that forfeited any "public employment, office or position" held by him, and "forever disqualified [him] from holding any office or position of honor, trust, or profit" pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:51-2(d). We set forth the procedural history in some detail because it relates specifically to one of the points defendant now raises on appeal.

Defendant was employed as a Rowan University police officer. The State alleged that on January 4, 2006, while on duty and utilizing a university computer, defendant created a false and offensive profile of J.W., a female employee of the University, on "myspace.com." On March 22, 2006, J.W. filed a complaint in municipal court charging defendant with harassment, N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4(a). The University served defendant with three preliminary notices of disciplinary action based upon these allegations, one of which noted that forfeiture of defendant's office pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:51-2 "may apply to this matter." After a Loudermill*fn1 hearing, defendant was suspended without pay.

On June 12, defendant pled guilty in municipal court to the amended charge of disorderly conduct, N.J.S.A. 2C:33-2(a), a petty disorderly persons offense. The State sought forfeiture of defendant's office by filing an order to show cause in the Law Division. This was denied without prejudice.*fn2

The University subsequently served defendant with final notices of disciplinary action terminating his employment, and the matters were forwarded to the Office of Administrative Law as contested cases. Beginning in December 2007, and culminating in January 2008, the administrative law judge (ALJ) heard testimony. In a thorough written opinion, the ALJ upheld the University's decision, concluding defendant's "misconduct was incompatible with service as a police officer." The ALJ's findings and conclusions were adopted by the Merit System Board, which affirmed defendant's termination and dismissed his administrative appeal on April 24, 2008. Defendant has not appealed that order.

Meanwhile, in February 2008, the State re-filed a forfeiture action in the Law Division. Oral argument was heard on May 30. Defendant argued that his offense did not "touch upon his office[.]" Additionally, he contended that the ALJ, who heard all the testimony surrounding the events, did not order forfeiture.

The State countered by noting that it sought not only forfeiture of defendant's position as a campus police officer, but also "permanent disqualification" from "other public employment" because defendant was "found guilty o[f] charges that related directly and substantially to his job as a campus police officer." The State further argued that the ALJ did not have jurisdiction to order forfeiture because, under N.J.S.A. 2C:51-2, only a "court" could enter such an order.

While expressing concern for the lack of an adequate factual basis at the time defendant pled guilty in municipal court, and whether he knew the State intended to seek forfeiture when he entered the plea, the judge nonetheless concluded that defendant's offense "b[ore] on his office." She continued, "It's just a matter of the decency and the respect and the need of an officer to avoid exposing any citizen to the internet in the fashion that this young man did." The judge granted the State's request, and entered the order under review. This appeal ensued.

The parties have reiterated their arguments before us. We have considered them in light of the record and applicable legal standards. We affirm.

Before addressing defendant's procedural argument, we consider whether his offense satisfied the statutory standard for forfeiture, which provides in pertinent part,

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 ...


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