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Open Government Advocacy Project:
Media Advisory: South Bound Brook asked to repeal invalid ordinance still being "enforced" by Borough officials

Issue Detail:

On June 9, 2010, the New Jersey Libertarian Party formally requested Mayor Terry Warrelmann and the South Bound Brook Borough Council to repeal several invalid provisions from the Borough Code. This request was made after the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office agreed, based on the Libertarians' December 9, 2009 complaint against the Borough, that municipal prosecutors in the county needed to be reminded that they are not permitted to downgrade statutory charges to violations of invalid municipal ordinances. After investigating the records of the South Bound Brook Municipal Court, the Libertarians found that Borough Prosecutor James P. Fitzgerald was improperly allowing defendants charged with offenses such as assault to plead guilty to an invalid Borough ordinance. That ordinance, enacted in 1931, makes it unlawful to "commit any lewd, immoral or indecent act or utter loud or offensive or indecent language or by hilarity disturb the peace and quiet" while "upon about or within the waters of or bounding the Borough." Although it was rendered inoperable when New Jersey passed its uniform Criminal Code in 1979, South Bound Brook never repealed it. In its complaint to the Prosecutor, the Libertarians argued that Fitzgerald's downgrading of assault charges was "particularly repugnant because such dispositions potentially allow violent offenders to escape accountability for their actions." The Libertarians noted that under the law, first offenders of the assault statute are afforded a “presumption of non-incarceration” while repeat offenders do not benefit from that presumption and are more likely to go to jail. Allowing assault defendants to plead guilty to an invalid ordinance, the Libertarians argued, prevents those who are actually guilty of assault from being identified in the state’s database as previous offenders. "These plea bargains subvert the state's criminal justice system and that's why Attorney General Verniero outlawed them in 1998," said John Paff, Chairman of the Libertarian Party's Preempted Ordinance Repeal Project. Prosecutors like these downgrades because everybody pleads guilty saving them from having to conduct time consuming trials. The defendants like these downgrades too because they can pay a couple hundred in fines and not face incarceration or be saddled with a criminal record. And, the towns like the downgrades as well because the fines are an easy and lucrative source of revenue." "Maintaining the integrity of the criminal justice system," Paff said, "is far more important than the municipal prosecutor's administrative convenience and the Borough's interest in collecting revenue." The Libertarian Party's repeal request, its complaint to the Somerset County Prosecutor and the Prosecutor's response are on-line here. For more information on the Libertarian Party's Preempted Ordinance Repeal Project, click here. http://www.lpcnj.org/OGTF/Loiter.html ###




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