In the case of Leek v. New Jersey Department of Corrections, 33-2-0497, a Senior Corrections Officer appealed the New Jersey Department of Personnel, Merit System Board’s decision to uphold the Department’s issuance of a thirty (30) day suspension for violation of the Department’s internal rules and regulations and conduct unbecoming a public employee. The case revolved around the conduct of Leek who repeatedly attended court hearings in uniform with a criminal defendant that was free on bail but had previously been a county jail inmate. Leek further wrote a letter that identified himself as a Senior Corrections Officer and asked for leniency on behalf of the defendant.
In defense of his actions Leek stated that he was acting in his capacity as an ordained minister and spiritual adviser on behalf of the inmate. Leek never informed the Department or his superiors of his conduct and failed to request permission to appear on behalf of a defendant facing criminal charges in a New Jersey Court of Law.
Despite Leeks arguments that were based on his First Amendment rights, the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division agreed with the Merit System Board that upheld the thirty day suspension imposed by the New Jersey Department of Corrections. In summary, while Public Safety Officers do garner protections under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, they can not call upon these protections when their actions are detrimental to their employer, public perception, and their sworn law enforcement duties.