On December 24, 2009, the Appellate Division decided In the Matter of Eugene I. Otto, Police Department, Township of Irvington, Docket No.: A-1112-08T3. In the case, Eugene Otto appealed from a final decision of the Civil Service Commission finding that his removal as a member of the Irvington Police Department was justified and dismissing his appeal.
On February 1, 2006, Otto was served with fifteen separate disciplinary charges for violating various provisions of the Irvington Police Manual. Various offenses were alleged, including withholding information, failing to perform his duties, insubordination, using derogatory terms, and being untruthful. Following a departmental hearing, all the charges were sustained, and Otto was removed from the force.
Otto appealed to the Merit System Board, now known as the Civil Service Commission, and a hearing was held before an administrative law judge who sustained the following charges: one count of conduct unbecoming a public employee, two counts of being untruthful, and one count of using derogatory terms. The administrative law judge also concluded that there was insufficient evidence to sustain the remaining charges and they were dismissed. He also concluded that the charge of using derogatory language was not of sufficient import to warrant significant discipline, but the remaining charges constituted “mutinous and disruptive behavior” that, in light of Otto’s disciplinary hearing, warranted his dismissal from the force. The Civil Service Commission agreed. This appeal followed.
On appeal, Otto contended that the charges against him should have been dismissed as untimely, that certain evidence was insufficient to support the charges against him, and that the punishment of dismissal was arbitrary and capricious. The Appellate Division found: (1) the disciplinary charges were timely filed within 45 days of the prosecutor’s office advising the township that it had determined that Otto’s statements were not truthful; (2) Otto’s actions constituted conduct unbecoming a public employee; (3) Otto’s charges that that department chief had deliberately shirked his responsibilities and acted out of improper racial motivations was not protected speech and therefore was not speech for which he could not be disciplined; and (4) the sanction of removal was not unduly severe give Otto’s disciplinary record and the gravity of the offenses. As such, the Court affirmed the Civil Service Commission’s decision.