In Brief

N.J. Supreme Court upholds decision nixing former tax assessor’s pension over $300 bribe

By: - August 11, 2021 10:52 am

The decision stems from a 2018 case involving an apparently abused infant whose parents were stripped of custody after trial. (Courtesy of NJ Courts)

The New Jersey Supreme Court has upheld lower court decisions requiring a former Jersey City tax assessor to give up his pension after pleading guilty to accepting a $300 bribe.

The high court found the compelled forfeiture of ex-assessor Bennie Anderson’s pension did not violate the Eighth Amendment, which bars excessive fines and cruel and unusual punishments. Instead, Anderson had a quasi-contractual right that hinged on honorable service, Justice Jaynee LaVecchia wrote in her opinion.

Anderson’s acceptance of a bribe disqualified him from that right, so the pension forfeiture was not a fine, LaVecchia wrote in an opinion joined by Justices Lee Solomon, Fabiana Pierre-Louis, Anne Paterson, and Faustino Fernandez-Vina. Chief Justice Stuart Rabner did not participate in the decision.

In his dissent, Justice Barry Albin argued the forfeiture was a fine because Anderson was not convicted until after he retired and the pension was vested. Albin further argued that the forfeiture of a pension worth more than $1 million — Anderson accumulated it over more than 38 years as a public employee —because Anderson admitted accepting a single $300 bribe was “grossly disproportional.”

Anderson in November 2017 pleaded guilty to altering a residence’s tax description to increase the number of units in exchange for a bribe in December 2012. That plea agreement gave him two years’ probation and levied a $3,000 fine.

Jersey City’s retirement system reduced his pension payments from $60,173.67 to $47,918.76, but state authorities successfully sued, arguing his guilty plea to a federal crime that involved public employment required he give up his pension altogether.

Anderson appealed, charging the forfeiture of his pension violated the Eighth Amendment, but an appellate panel — and now the Supreme Court — upheld the decision.

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.