July 5, 2011
IN THE MATTER OF GEORGE WATTS, CORRECTION OFFICER RECRUIT (S9999H),
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS.
On appeal from the Civil Service Commission, Docket No. 2009-1976.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued May 3, 2011
Before Judges Parrillo and Espinosa.
Appellant George Watts appeals from a final decision of the Civil Service Commission (Commission), removing his name from the list of candidates eligible for appointment to the civil service title Correction Officer Recruit in the Department of Corrections (DOC). We affirm.
Watts had been employed by the DOC from March 2001 to September 2001, when he resigned to join the State Police. While employed as a State Trooper, Watts resigned from the organization on October 2, 2003, pending State Police disciplinary charges resulting from his 2002 arrest by Asbury Park Police for engaging in prostitution, N.J.S.A. 2C:34-1b(1), and filing a false report with law enforcement authorities, N.J.S.A. 2C:28-4b(1). The disorderly persons' charges were eventually dismissed in the municipal court on October 3, 2003, and the record of which was ultimately expunged by order of February 13, 2004. Moreover, because Watts had resigned from the State Police, there was no hearing or adjudication of the administrative disciplinary charges, which were based on a State Police investigation report indicating that the witnesses did not support Watts' exonerating explanation.
Watts later applied to the DOC for the position of Correction Officer Recruit. The eligible list for this position was promulgated on December 24, 2006 and expired on December 23, 2008. On June 18, 2008, DOC notified Watts that his name was being removed from the eligible list on the basis of an unsatisfactory employment record, namely his resignation from the State Police in 2003 pending charges of engaging in prostitution and filing fictitious reports.
Watts appealed DOC's removal of his name from the eligible list to the Commission's Division of State Human Resource Management (SHRM), arguing that he did not have a criminal record because the charges were dismissed and his record was expunged. He added that he had no prior discipline with the State Police, had been employed since 2004 with a contractor for the United States Department of Defense, and received security clearance in 2007 from the Defense Security Agency. SHRM found that DOC had not presented a sufficient basis to remove Watts' name from the certification.
DOC appealed SHRM's decision to the Commission, which found that the DOC had presented a sufficient reason to remove Watts' name from the eligible list due to an unsatisfactory employment background, pursuant to N.J.A.C. 4A:4-4.7(a)(1) and N.J.A.C. 4A:4-6.1(a)7. The Commission reasoned:
The Commission has removed candidates from eligible lists under circumstances where the candidate, in his or her prior employment, resigned while disciplinary charges were pending. . . . The Commission finds it significant that Watts resigned from a law enforcement agency due to pending disciplinary action and notes that the fact that the alleged conduct did not result in criminal charges is not dispositive. Further, the Commission is mindful of the high standards that are placed upon law enforcement candidates and personnel. In this regard, it is recognized that a Correction Officer Recruit is a law enforcement employee who holds a highly visible and sensitive position within the community and the standard for an applicant includes good character and an image of utmost confidence and trust. See [Twp. of] Moorestown v. Armstrong, 89 N.J. Super. 560 (App. Div. 1965), cert[if.] denied, 47 N.J. 80 (1966). See also In re Phillips, 117 N.J. 567 (1990). Watts' employment background clearly indicates that he would not be suited for such a position. This is evident by his resignation from a prior law enforcement position due to pending disciplinary action.
On appeal, Watts argues that the Commission's decision is arbitrary and capricious and the DOC's appeal is untimely. We reject these arguments as without merit, Rule 2:11-3(e)(1)(D) and (E), and affirm substantially for the reasons stated by the Commission in its February 26, 2010 written decision. Suffice it to say, the Commission's decision is supported by substantial credible evidence, In re Taylor, 158 N.J. 644, 656-57 (1999), which demonstrated that Watts' resignation from a prior law enforcement position due to pending serious disciplinary charges and action did not meet the high standards, including good character, required of law enforcement employees and reflected adversely on the title he was seeking. N.J.A.C. 4A:4-6.1(a)(7).
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