By Wally Edge | February 3rd, 2009 - 3:54pm
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County prosecutors have much more stringent guidelines concerning political activity than federal prosecutors, according to the code of ethics developed by the state Attorney General and each of New Jersey's 21 prosecutors.  While First Assistant U.S. Attorney Michele Brown had no apparent legal obstacle in attending a partisan event at the home of Republican gubernatorial candidate Christopher Christie last week, she would not have been allowed to attend had she been working at the state level.

The ethics code "recognizes the importance of public confidence in the administration of criminal justice and provides for the general supervision of the county prosecutors by the Attorney General as chief law enforcement officer of the State.  This Code has been endorsed by each county prosecutor on behalf of his or her office."

According to the guidelines, county prosecutors, assistant county prosecutors, detectives, investigators or their office managers "shall not engage in any political activity" with political defined as "affecting the election to public office or political party office of a specific candidate or candidates or of the candidates of a particular political party in general." 

Prosecutors are prohibited from making contributions to candidates or political parties, as well as any participation in campaigns or working on behalf of any party or political organization. They may not display a lawn sign, put a bumper sticker on their care, wear a campaign button, or even work at the polls on Election Day.

The following is the Code of Ethics for County Prosecutors:

1.         AUTHORITY

This Code of Ethics has been jointly formulated by the Attorney General and the county prosecutors.  It is promulgated pursuant to the Criminal Justice Act of 1970, N.J.S.A. 52:17B-97 et seq., which recognizes the importance of public confidence in the administration of criminal justice and provides for the general supervision of the county prosecutors by the Attorney General as chief law enforcement officer of the State.  This Code has been endorsed by each county prosecutor on behalf of his or her office.

2.         PURPOSE

Integrity and impartiality of county prosecutors and the employees of their offices are critical to public confidence in our criminal justice system.  Public confidence in the criminal justice system is eroded whenever the public perceives that county prosecutors or their employees are not performing their duties in an impartial, professional and unbiased manner or that the private interests of county prosecutors and their employees influence the performance of those duties.  The purpose of this Code is to foster public confidence in the criminal justice system, by establishing statewide standards of conduct for county prosecutors and the employees of county prosecutors' offices.  This Code prohibits conflicts that are substantial and material or that may bring government into disrepute.  This Code recognizes that it is appropriate for county prosecutors, as chief law enforcement officers of their respective counties, to inform the public about crime and the criminal justice system and to express opinions on matters related to crime and the administration of criminal justice, and it is not intended to prohibit or restrict such conduct or other conduct appropriate in the normal course of government business.

3.         APPLICABILITY

This Code is applicable to every county prosecutor and to every person who is employed by a county prosecutor's office, including but not limited to assistant county prosecutors, detectives, investigators, professionals and clerical staff.  The duties and prohibitions included in this Code are in addition to those imposed by the "Local Government Ethics Law" (N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.1 et seq.)

4.         DUTIES AND PROHIBITIONS: IN GENERAL

A.  Every county prosecutor must observe, maintain and enforce the standards of conduct set forth in this Code.

B.  Every county prosecutor and employee of a county prosecutor's office must support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of New Jersey and comply with all applicable laws, statutes, rules of professional conduct and ordinances of this State and its political subdivisions and with all applicable laws and statutes of the United States.

C.  Every county prosecutor and employee of a county prosecutor's office must make official decisions and take official action on a fair and impartial basis and without regard to race, color, sex, religion, age, handicap, national origin, marital status, affectional or sexual orientation, partisan political, familial or social affiliation or other improper consideration.

D.  No county prosecutor or employee of a county prosecutor's office may use an official position to secure unwarranted privileges, benefits, or advantages for any person or to impose unwarranted burdens or disadvantages on any person.

E.   No county prosecutor or employee of a county prosecutor's office may lend the prestige of his or her office or position to advance any private or partisan political interest.

F.   No county prosecutor or employee of a county prosecutor's office may convey the impression that any person is in a special position to influence the performance of his or her duties, and no county prosecutor or employee of a county prosecutor's office may allow any person to convey the impression that he or she is in a special position to influence the performance of those duties.

G.  Every county prosecutor and employee of a county prosecutor's office must exercise all reasonable care to prevent improper use of public property and resources entrusted to him or her and no county prosecutor or employee of a county prosecutor may use public personnel, property or information to further personal or private interests or to satisfy personal or private obligations.

H. Except as authorized or required for proper performance of duties, no county prosecutor or employee of a county prosecutor's office may disclose any confidential information that is not available to the public and that is acquired in the course of duties or by virtue of their public employment.

I.   Except as required or authorized by law, no county prosecutor or employee of a county prosecutor's office may knowingly falsify any official writing or record or alter, destroy or conceal any official writing or record or evidence.

J.   Every county prosecutor and employee of a county prosecutor's office must timely pay federal, state and local taxes owed and must promptly satisfy all final judgments, liens, decrees or similar court-ordered obligations.

K.  No county prosecutor or employee of a county prosecutor shall take official action in any matter if he or she, or a member of his or her immediate family, or a business organization in which he or she has a financial interest, has a direct or indirect personal or financial involvement that might reasonably be expected to interfere with the impartial performance of official duties or that might reasonably be expected to impair objectivity or independence of judgment.

L.   No county prosecutor or employee of a county prosecutor may knowingly act in any way that might reasonably be expected to create an impression or suspicion among the public having knowledge of the acts that he or she is engaged in conduct violative of the public trust.

5.  AVOIDANCE OF ACTUAL AND APPARENT CONFLICTS: FINANCIAL INTERESTS, OUTSIDE EMPLOYMENT AND ACTIVITIES

A.  No county prosecutor, employee of a county prosecutor, or member of the immediate family of a county prosecutor or of an employee of a county prosecutor shall have financial interest in a business organization or engage in any business, transaction, or professional activity, which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of duties in the public interest.

B.  No county prosecutor or employee of a county prosecutor's office shall engage in any transaction, business, trade, occupation or professional activity, with or without compensation, which might reasonably be expected to be in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of official duties.

C. Except in performance of official duties and as expressly authorized in paragraph D and E of this section, no county prosecutor or employee of a county prosecutor may practice law or engage in any other business, trade, profession or occupation, whether or not for compensation.

D. Provided that the particular activity is not prohibited by law or another section of this Code, cannot be reasonably expected to be in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of duties or to cast doubt on independence of judgment and impartiality in the performance of official duties, and cannot be reasonably expected to entail a commitment of time or effort that might interfere with the proper performance of duties, a county prosecutor or an employee of a county prosecutor may do any of the following:

(1) Engage in transactions involving financial, business, real estate and personal property interest.

(2) Serve as the executor, administrator, trustee, guardian, or other fiduciary, for the estate, trust, or person of any person who is the spouse, child, parent, grandparent or sibling or other relative with whom the prosecutor or employee of the prosecutor has maintained a familial relationship, subject to the same restrictions on financial activities that apply when the prosecutor or employee is acting in a personal capacity;

(3)  Engage in volunteer activities on behalf of nonprofit charitable, religious, sports, professional and other nonprofit organizations.

(4)  Publish any work or give any speech in a private capacity, so long as an employee of a county prosecutor who is identified as an employee of a county prosecutor in the publication or at the time of the speech declares, in writing or orally as appropriate, that the views expressed are his or her personal views;

(5) Be a member of, hold any leadership position in, or otherwise participate in the activities of any professional organization devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, the administration of justice or the enhancement of the skills and professionalism of the members of the bar or law enforcement community or serve on the editorial board of, or contribute written work to, publications of such organizations.

E.  Provided that the particular activity is not prohibited by law or another section of this Code, cannot be reasonably expected to be in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of duties or to cast doubt on independence of judgment and impartiality in the performance of official duties, and cannot be reasonably expected to entail a commitment of time or effort that might interfere with the proper performance of duties, with notice to and approval of the county prosecutor, an employee of a county prosecutor may do any of the following:

(1) Represent him or herself in any legal action or provide representation without compensation to a person who is his or her spouse, child or parent in a matter that is not adversarial in nature;

(2) Teach without compensation or for reasonable compensation;

(3) Provide other services as an independent contractor or employee for reasonable compensation.

F.  No county prosecutor, employee of a county prosecutor, member of the immediate family of a county prosecutor or of an employee of a county prosecutor, or business organization in which either has a financial interest may solicit, receive or accept any gratuity, gift, favor, loan, political contribution, service, promise of future employment or other thing of value based upon an understanding, or under circumstances in which it would be reasonable to infer an understanding, that such thing of value was offered or given for the purpose of influencing the prosecutor or employee of the prosecutor, directly or indirectly, in the discharge of official duties or compensating the county prosecutor or employee of the county prosecutor for official action previously taken.  Gifts of the following sort are presumed not to be offered for a prohibited purpose unless the circumstances give rise to a reasonable, contrary inference:

(1)  Gifts of a trivial or nominal value given in connection with a public appearance or on the same basis available to members of the general public;

(2)  Ordinary social hospitality;

(3) A gift, favor or loan from a lending institution given on the same terms available to the general public;

(4)  A scholarship given on the same terms available to members of the general public;

(5)  An award or other honor given by a charitable or civic group because of public service provided that no monetary award, honorarium or stipend or other thing of value other than a plaque, trophy or other commemorative item of nominal value is given.

G.  No employee of a county prosecutor shall accept reimbursement from any source other than the office of the county prosecutor for expenses associated with attendance at an event in his or her capacity as an employee of the county prosecutor's office without prior notice to and approval of the county prosecutor.

H.  No county prosecutor or employee of a county prosecutor shall accept reimbursement from any source other than the office of the county prosecutor if the person, organization or a majority of the members of the organization offering reimbursement may reasonably be expected to be an adversary in a matter in which the county prosecutor represents the State or to otherwise appear in a matter before the county prosecutor.  With the approval of the county prosecutor, this restriction may be waived if the event is designed to provide training, dissemination of information, or the exchange of ideas and the county prosecutor or the employee of the county prosecutor is making a speech or participating on a panel at the event, or is serving as a resource person for a speaker or panelist.

I.  No county prosecutor or employee of a county prosecutor may provide bail or bail costs to any person accused of a criminal offense other than a person who is a spouse, parent, child or sibling of the county prosecutor or employee of the county prosecutor.

J.   No county prosecutor or employee of a county prosecutor shall voluntarily testify as a character or reputation witness on behalf of any person accused of a criminal offense and no employee of a county prosecutor, except in the performance of official duties or with the approval of the county prosecutor, shall voluntarily testify as expert or fact witness in any civil or criminal proceeding.  No employee of a county prosecutor shall accept any compensation from any person other than the county for expert testimony.

K.   No county prosecutor or employee of a county prosecutor shall recommend, contact or assist in obtaining counsel to represent any person, other than a spouse, parent or child of the county prosecutor or employee of the county prosecutor, who is accused of a criminal offense.

L.    A county prosecutor, assistant prosecutor or a detective or investigator who is an employee of a county prosecutor shall not privately retain or be represented in personal legal affairs by an attorney who maintains an active criminal practice within the county in which the person is employed.

M.  Excluding performance of official duties, no employee of the county prosecutor's office shall engage in any business, profession, trade or occupation which is subject to licensing or regulation by the State or political subdivision of the State unless approved by the county prosecutor and otherwise permitted by the provisions of this Code.

6.         POLITICAL ACTIVITY

A. A county prosecutor, assistant county prosecutor, detective, investigator, agent or office manager who is an employee of a county prosecutor shall not engage in any political activity.

B. For purposes of this section, "political" means "primarily aimed at affecting the election to public office or political party office of a specific candidate or candidates or of the candidates of a particular political party in general."

C. For purposes of this section "political activity" means:

(1) Any candidacy for elective public or political office;

(2) Any holding of a public or political office, or employment with any political party, organization or club;

(3)  Any participation in any political campaign or working on behalf of any political party, organization or club;

(4)  Any exhibiting of signs concerning political candidates on one's person, vehicle or home;

(5)  Any use of one's name in connection with any political material;

(6)  Any purchase, sale or distribution of tickets to or any attendance at any affair held for any political purpose whatsoever;

(7)  Any contribution to a political party or candidate;

(8) Any soliciting or accepting of any contribution either directly or indirectly to or on behalf of any political party, organization or club or for any other political purpose whatsoever;

(9)  Any use of one's official influence to modify the political action of another; and

(10) Except as required for performance of official duties, any working at the polls during election time or as an election official at any time.

D. An employee of a county prosecutor who is not an assistant prosecutor, detective, investigator, agent or office manager may engage in political activity prohibited by paragraphs 3, 4, 6, 7 and 8 subsection C. of this section so long as:

(1) The activity is not conducted at the office of the county prosecutor or during the hours of duty or at any time so as to interfere with the operation of the office of the county prosecutor and the employee does not use any property or resources of the office;

(2)  The employee does not in any way rely on his status as an employee of the county prosecutor in connection with the activity or identify himself or herself as an employee of the county prosecutor in connection with the activity;

(3) The employee does not display a partisan political message of any sort on any property of the state or county or on his or her person while on duty or in uniform identifying the person as an employee of the county prosecutor.

7.  DISCLOSURE, REPORTING AND RECORD KEEPING RESPONSIBILITIES

A.  Prior to assuming office and on July 1 of every year in office, every county prosecutor and First Assistant Prosecutor must file, with the Director of the Division of Criminal Justice, the "Financial Disclosure Statement For Public Employees" (Attachment A).  The Director shall keep the forms on file so long as the county prosecutor is in office and for five years thereafter.

B.   It shall be the duty of a county prosecutor or employee of a county prosecutor who is aware of conduct by himself or herself or any other that violates this Code, or violates State or federal law to disclose the conduct to the county prosecutor or a person designated by the county prosecutor.

C.  It shall be the duty of a county prosecutor or employee of a county prosecutor who reasonably believes any activity, policy or practice of the office is in violation of a law, or a rule or regulation promulgated pursuant to law, or is fraudulent or criminal, or is incompatible with a clear mandate of public policy concerning the public health, safety or welfare to disclose the activity, policy or practice to the county prosecutor or a person designated by the county prosecutor pursuant to the provisions of the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, N.J.S.A. 34:19-1 et seq.

 

D.  It shall be the duty of a county prosecutor or employee of a county prosecutor charged with a crime or charged with an offense or motor vehicle violation that could adversely impact on the performance of duties to report the charge to the county prosecutor or person designated by the county prosecutor.

E. An employee of a county prosecutor who has a reasonable doubt as to the propriety under this Code of any action shall seek the assistance of the county prosecutor or a person designated by the county prosecutor.  The county prosecutor shall respond to any such inquiry and, in so doing, may seek the assistance of the Director of the Division of Criminal Justice.

F.  Any disclosure, notification, report, approval, waiver, request for assistance, or response pursuant to this Code shall be in writing and shall detail all relevant circumstances.

G. It shall be the duty of the county prosecutor to keep records of all disclosures, notifications, reports, approvals, waivers, requests for assistance and responses covered by this Code.

 

1. PENALTIES

Persons who violate the provisions of this Code shall be subject to appropriate action, including, as authorized by applicable law or contract, removal, suspension, demotion or other disciplinary action.

2.   EFFECTIVE

This Code of Ethics shall take effect on July 1, 1997, except that any county prosecutor or employee of a county prosecutor who on April 30, 1997 holds any interest, employment or position that is prohibited by this Code may request approval to continue to hold the interest, employment or position for a reasonable period of time, following the effective date of this Code, sufficient to permit orderly disposition of the interest or orderly satisfaction of the responsibilities of the employment or position.  Such requests shall be filed with the county prosecutor and the Director of the Division of Criminal Justice.  A request by a county prosecutor shall require approval of the Attorney General.  A request by an employee of a county prosecutor shall require the approval of the county prosecutor and the Director.

April 30, 1997

 

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