Would Require Indicted Officeholders to Stand Aside After Being Charged, Step Down Upon Conviction
TRENTON – Senator Shirley K. Turner has introduced a proposed state constitutional amendment that would temporarily suspend without pay elected officials who are indicted for wrongdoing from their official duties, and would remove them from office upon conviction.
Turner said the change is necessary to ensure that residents are not left hanging in limbo when elected officials are indicted and split their time between their criminal defense and the needs of their office.
“Indicted elected officials who claim to be able to fully maintain their official duties while simultaneously fighting a criminal complaint are both deluding themselves and depriving our residents,” said Turner (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “When even one moment of time is taken away from an elected official’s duties to be spent on a legal defense, our residents ultimately suffer. With so many challenges facing so many levels of government, we can no longer allow that to happen.”
Turner noted that many indicted officials do not resign their office on the advice of legal counsel that argues that doing so would be tantamount to admitting their guilt. She said that the suspension provision of the amendment nullifies that argument, allowing officials who are innocent of criminal charges to resume office upon their acquittal.
“Public employees charged with certain crimes are often suspended without pay pending the outcome of the charges, but with elected officials, we must rely on them to make the decision to step down,” said Turner. “Elected officials are entrusted by the public to conduct themselves legally and ethically, and they should be held to the highest standards of integrity. The taxpayers should not be expected to continue paying indicted elected officials’ salaries simply because the officials, by virtue of their elected positions, are treated more favorably than other public workers. They, too, should be removed from the public payroll pending the outcome of their charges.”
Under state statute, convicted officials are removed from office; if adopted by voters, the amendment would enshrine that penalty in the state constitution. Elected officials found guilty of any crime connected to their public offices forfeit all of the public pension or retirement benefits earned for the office held at the time the crime was committed, according to a law enacted in 2007.
“Everyone is due his or her day in court, but the people’s business should not be held hostage to cases that can take weeks or months,” said Turner. “The shame is that this amendment even needs to be introduced in the first place – not just because indicted officials aren’t doing the right thing and stepping aside for the good of the people, but that so many of them are brought up on charges to begin with.”
Turner’s proposal (SCR-129) has been referred to the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee.