Q As municipal clerk, various municipal officials and employees often ask me if they have to file Financial Disclosure forms. In most cases I know the answer, but, quite honestly I am not certain about certain positions, and in such cases I advise them to do so just to be safe. However, I would like to know for certain. Where can I find out which individuals must file?
A You are not alone in your confusion as to which individuals are considered to be “local officials” under the Local Government Ethics Law and thus required to file a financial disclosure statement with the municipality, with a copy to the Local Finance Board of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. The answer is not crystal clear, but the statutes and a 1991 Attorney General’s Opinion on the subject, issued to the Local Finance Board, give some guidelines.
Clearly local elected officials, like mayors and members of the governing body, are required to file. Similarly, members of bodies that can pass ordinances, like local Boards of Health, or can make planning and zoning decisions, like Planning Boards or Boards of Adjustment, must do so. Members of local authorities that are within the scope of the Local Authorities Fiscal Control Law must also file these disclosure forms.
The least clear category of “local government officer” for these purposes is “managerial executive(s) or confidential employees.” Generally, these individuals make policy decisions and are on the “management side” in collective bargaining. The Attorney General declines to give a comprehensive list of such positions, but does say that the following individuals clearly must file financial disclosure forms: municipal attorneys, planning board attorneys, attorneys for zoning boards of adjustment, county prosecutors, sheriffs, and members of the boards of trustees of a municipal library, county regional library or county college. Beyond these guidelines, the determination is made on a case by case basis.
If you still have questions as to whether a given individual must file the disclosure form, I suggest that you consult with your municipal attorney on the subject.
Q A friend of mine was recently stopped by the police, handcuffed and treated rather roughly by them because they mistakenly thought he was a suspect in a crime. He has no criminal record of any kind, and he was in the area because he was on the way home from doing some plumbing work on a customer’s house. The police let him go when they realized their mistake, but he was sore for a couple of weeks, and upset for a long time. He wants to sue for “false arrest/false imprisonment,” but was told that he must show serious physical injury to recover under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act. Is this true?
A It is true, although he may have a cause of action for violation of his civil rights, according to a recent New Jersey Supreme Court ruling concerning similar facts, decided on April 12, 2005. In Delacruz v. Borough of Hillsdale, (A-72/73-03), the court overruled the Appellate Division in holding that the “verbal threshold” of the New Jersey Tort Claims Act does apply to claims of false imprisonment or false arrest. This “threshold” provision states that “No damages shall be awarded against a public entity or public employee for pain and suffering resulting from any injury…(except) in cases of permanent loss of a bodily function, permanent disfigurement or dismemberment where the medical treatment expenses are in excess of $3,600.” From your description of your friend’s injuries, it does not seem that they would meet this standard.
However, the court did allow the plaintiff in Delacruz to bring a federal 1983 claim for deprivation of his civil rights. The Supreme Court agreed with the Appellate Division that, while the initial stop of the plaintiff was entitled to the qualified immunity against civil rights liability given to public employees in such circumstances, the detention and handcuffing of Mr. Delacruz was not. The court then went on to disagree with the earlier opinion in finding that the subjective good faith of the officers was not a valid defense against these civil rights claims. Rather, it was held, an objective standard of what a reasonable officer would have done under the circumstances should be used to determine if the facts supported a claim under the 1983 statute.
This column is for informational purposes only, and is not intended as legal advice.