Recently, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division (“Appellate Division”) issued an opinion in the case In the Matter of Frank Harkcom, Bayside State Prison, Department of Corrections. This case reinforces the fact that New Jersey Public Safety Officers must be mindful if there is a temporary (“TRO”) or final restraining order (“FRO”) entered against them and the impact the same can have upon their employment going forward.
In Harkcom, a Correction Officer appealed his termination from employment. To this end, he was required to reapply for his job after his conviction of reckless driving and subsequent suspension. The Department of Corrections charged the Officer with falsifying his reapplication by failing to report an active FRO. He was also charged with conduct unbecoming an employee, falsification and intentional misstatement of material fact in connection with work among other charges.
At the hearing, the Officer argued the service section of the FRO was not complete and he was not aware of the same nor the harassment charges. As such, he moved for a directed verdict at the end of the Department’s case. The Administrative Law Judge denied the motion and determined the hearsay nature of the database records used by the Department to show the FRO went to the weight he would give them. Thereafter, the Judge found that the officer had knowledge of the FRO and harassment charges and, thus, falsified his application. Subsequently, the Commission adopted the Judge’s decision in its entirety.
On appeal, the Appellate Division noted that no witness testified to qualify the database documents as admissible non-hearsay or hearsay exceptions or to authenticate the documents. As such, the Appellate Division determined the Department failed to present competent evidence on the harassment complaints or the FRO and, as a result, the admitted FRO document contained no information as to the officer’s knowledge of it. As such, the officer’s termination was reversed.
This case illustrates the enormous impact the entry of a TRO or FRO can have upon a public safety officer. In many circumstances, the entry of a FRO can lead to an officer being terminated from employment, suspended indefinitely, or, initially, being prohibited from being hired in the first place. Therefore, should you ever be faced with the situation wherein a TRO or FRO is entered against you, it is imperative to consult with an experienced attorney to ensure your rights are protected.