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Open Government Advocacy Project:
Trooper disciplinary hearings closed to public

Issue Detail:

On February 25, 2010, the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, ruled that seven New Jersey State Troopers accused of sexual offenses shall "remain unidentified" and that their disciplinary hearings shall "proceed as a closed proceeding." The Troopers have been suspended without pay since October 2009 after a young woman came to an emergency room on December 7, 2007 "for treatment following a night of sexual activity with several men." While the woman acknowledged that some of the sex was consensual, "she equivocated whether all of it was consensual." After an investigation, the county prosecutor determined not to present the matter to a grand jury but referred the matter to the State Police for consideration of disciplinary charges. The State Police filed charged against the seven Troopers in October 2009. After contesting the charges, the Troopers sought an order to have their disciplinary hearings closed to the public. The Administrative Law Judge denied the request and the Superintendent of the State Police affirmed the denial. The Troopers appealed the denial to the Appellate Division. After stating that courts have a "traditional abhorrence of secret trials" and that "public trials are considered essential to maintaining public confidence in our administrative and judicial systems," the court ultimately found in favor of closed hearings. If the sex had been consensual, reasoned the court, then there would be no basis for the charges. And, the court's review of documents obtained through discovery caused it to state that "much of the information provided by the alleged victim about the location and circumstances of the events was roundly discredited." So, in essence, the Court held that the since the charges were based on a discredited witness, revealing the identities of the troopers and the details of the evening may cause harm to them and "their familial relationships [that] may be incalculable and forever impaired." The Appellate Division's written opinion is on-line John Paff Somerset, New Jersey




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