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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