Allegations come to the State Ethics Commission ("Commission") from various sources and may be made through our toll free hotline, 1-888-223-1355, or in writing. The complainant may remain anonymous. If the complainant does identify him/herself, that information remains confidential.
Allegations may also be filed with the State agency employing the State officer or employee in accordance with procedures established by the agency. Upon receipt of an allegation, the State agency is required to file a copy of same with the Commission. It is within the discretion of the Commission to direct the State agency to transfer the allegation to it. (N.J.A.C. 19:61-3.4) Notice of all determinations made by State agencies in connection with hearings conducted pursuant to N.J.A.C. 19:61-3.1 must be filed with the Commission. All determinations with respect to the Conflicts of Interest Law which involve the removal of a State officer or employee or any other disciplinary actions are effective only when approved by the Commission.
The Commission may take action against a State officer or employee or special State officer or employee after he/she has left State service for violations that occurred during State service. Under a January 2006 amendment to the Conflicts Law, an investigation must be commenced within two years of the termination of State service.
When an allegation is received, the staff first reviews it for an initial determination as to whether the alleged conduct falls within the jurisdiction of the Commission. Once it has been determined that the Commission has jurisdiction, the staff initiates a preliminary investigation which may include interviews of the complainant, the State officer or employee involved, and any other individuals who possess knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the alleged conduct. Interviews are conducted under oath and are tape-recorded. The interviewee, if he/she so desires, may be accompanied by an attorney or union representative, but such representation is not required. It is not appropriate for an interviewee to be accompanied by the agency's Ethics Liaison Officer. A copy of the taped interview will be provided to the interviewee upon his/her request, after the matter has been reviewed by the Commission. Interviews are occasionally conducted via telephone. Investigations also frequently involve the review of documents.
If the Commission determines that the testimony of any person is required, and that person refuses to appear, a subpoena may be issued. The subpoena may also contain a direction that such person bring with him/her any books, papers or documents designated therein. If the person subpoenaed fails to appear, the Commission may apply to the Superior Court to compel the person to comply.
During the course of the preliminary investigation, no information regarding the allegation is made public. Upon the conclusion of the preliminary investigation, the written report of the investigation is presented to the entire Commission. The Commission meeting is not a formal hearing. No witnesses appear. A full due process hearing is held at the Office of Administrative Law if and when the Commission determines that indications of a violation exist. The Commission meeting dates are posted on our website, www.nj.gov/ethics. Meetings are open to the public. Reports of preliminary investigations are privileged communications between the staff and Commission members and are considered in closed session. The subject of an investigation is notified in writing of the date that the matter will be considered. The subject and his/her representative may attend the meeting. Commission members may ask questions of the subject or his/her representative. The Departmental Ethics Liaison Officer is also notified and normally attends the meeting.
If the Commission finds that there has been no violation of the Conflicts Law or the Department's Code of Ethics, as alleged, or that the complaint is frivolous, it will dismiss the allegation. This occurs in the open public session. If the Commission determines that there are indications of a violation meriting further proceedings, a complaint shall be set down for a hearing at the Office of Administrative Law ("OAL") pursuant to the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act, N.J.S.A. 52:14B-1 et seq., and the Uniform Administrative Procedure Rules, N.J.A.C. 1:1. The Commission is also authorized to hold a hearing itself. Because of time constraints, this is normally not done. Prior to an OAL hearing, witnesses may be interviewed by the investigative staff. After the OAL hearing is concluded, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") issues an initial decision in accordance with the time frame set forth in the Administrative Procedure Act. The Commission may accept, reject or modify the ALJ's decision. Final Orders of the Commission may be appealed to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.
In the past, the Commission has permitted an individual to enter into a consent agreement with the Commission either prior to or after the issuance of a complaint. Consent orders are included in the individual's personnel file. Consent orders, complaints and answers are public records.
If the Commission determines that the State officer or employee has violated the Conflicts Law or any Departmental code of ethics, it may fine the State officer or employee in accordance with the provisions of N.J.S.A. 52:13D-21(i), currently not less than $500 nor more than $10,000 per violation. A January 2006 Conflicts Law amendment also permits the Commission to order restitution, demotion, censure or reprimand for an ethics violation. The Commission may further order or direct the State agency employing the State officer or employee to suspend the State officer or employee for a period not in excess of one year for each violation. Should the Commission find that the conduct of the State officer or employee constitutes a willful and continuous disregard of the provisions of the Conflicts Law or any code of ethics, it may order or direct the State agency employing the State officer or employee to remove the State officer or employee from his/her office or employment and may further direct that the State agency bar such person from holding any public office or employment in the State in any capacity for a period not exceeding five years from the date on which he/she was found guilty by the Commission.
In the case of the post-employment restriction, N.J.S.A. 52:13D-17, the January 2006 Conflicts Law amendment permits the Commission to impose a civil penalty of between $500 and $10,000 for violations of post-employment restrictions by former State officers and employees and special State officers and employees. The Commission may also refer a matter to the Division of Criminal Justice. Any person who willfully violates section 17 is a disorderly person and is subject to a fine not to exceed $1,000 or imprisonment not to exceed six months, or both.
Minutes of all meetings at which a matter is discussed and the opinion issued by the Commission are public records; minutes of executive session discussions are made available on a case-by-case basis after the particular matter is concluded.