In Brief

Teacher convicted of bank fraud can keep pension, appeals court says

By: - May 1, 2023 3:32 pm

The judges ruled in favor of a Monmouth County teacher who was denied his retirement benefits. (Photo by Peter Dazeley/Getty Images)

An appellate court ruled Monday that teachers convicted of crimes unrelated to school work can’t be deprived of their pensions.

The three-judge panel ruled in favor of a former teacher for the Monmouth County Vocational School District convicted of bank fraud, saying he must be allowed to seek deferred retirement benefits.

The board of the Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund had denied John Caucino’s application for deferred benefits, charging his bank fraud conviction amounted to “conduct unbecoming for a teacher,” which barred him from the benefits.

Under New Jersey law, those convicted of certain crimes are prohibited from teaching in schools overseen by the Department of Education. Bank fraud meets that bar, but pension disqualification sets another.

Members enrolled in the Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund can seek deferred retirement benefits if they were within the system for at least 10 years and were not removed for “conduct unbecoming a teacher or other just cause.”

The judges in Monday’s ruling said that language had historically referred to firings that directly touch on a teacher’s employment — such as misuse of school property or sexual contact with a minor — but did not stretch into unrelated convictions.

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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.