In the matter of Gary Stolinski v. State of New Jersey, Division of State Police, A-2412-07T3, the Appellate Division considered whether Gary Stolinski, a New Jersey State Trooper, was entitled to an award of counsel fees pursuant to N.J.S.A. 53:1-30, as a result of having to defend against an indictment charging official misconduct, credit card fraud, and identity theft.

On July 15, 2005, Stolinski was indicted and charged with official misconduct, credit card fraud, and identity theft based on the allegation that he used a State Police computer to make online credit card applications through the use of false information and by assuming the identity of others. Subsequent to being indicted, Stolinski was suspended from the force without pay.   

The indictment was ultimately dismissed on December 15, 2005. Thereafter, Stolinski was reinstated and reimbursed for the pay withheld during his suspension. Stolinski then demanded reimbursement for the counsel fees he expended in defending against the indictment. In response, the Attorney General’s office advised that the request for the payment of legal fees incurred in seeking back pay would be honored. However, the Division rejected the remaining aspects of Stolinski’s request and asserted there was no statutory basis for the reimbursement of attorney fees associated with: (1) the defense of criminal charges; (2) responding to the administrative disciplinary charge; or (3) seeking the expungement of his criminal record. This appeal ensued.

The Appellate Division concluded that the Division’s final agency decision was neither arbitrary, capricious, nor unreasonable because it was based upon a correct understanding of N.J.S.A. 53:1-30 and an accurate application of its terms to the allegations contained in the indictment. N.J.S.A. 53:1-30 provides that a law enforcement officer is entitled to be reimbursed only for those fees incurred “in an action or legal proceeding arising out of or directly related to the lawful exercise of police powers in the furtherance of official duties.”   

The Court determined N.J.S.A. 53:1-30 did not provide support for Stolinski’s claim because the allegations of the indictment were not directly related to his lawful exercise of police powers in the furtherance of official duties. In this case, Stolinski was alleged to have used a State Police computer to make false credit card application. Regardless of whether the allegations could or could not be substantiated, it is clear Stolinski was not charged with conduct that was in furtherance of his official duties on that occasion. As a result, the Court affirmed the Division’s determination.