Monday, December 10, 2012

State: Parsippany Mayor's letter, on Township letterhead, asking judge for "leniency" was within ethical bounds.

In a November 21, 2012 letter, Local Finance Board Chairman Thomas H. Neff reported that Board cleared Parsippany Mayor James Barberio of ethical wrongdoing for writing a Superior Court judge a letter on Township letterhead asking for leniency for a friend's 26-year old son who was facing drug charges.  In his letter, Neff noted that "Mayors have no direct statutory involvement with the selection of Superior Court judges or county prosecutors."  Neff further stated that "elected officials do not, upon taking office, give up their right to support friends and neighbors that other community members may provide."  After finding that Mayor's letter did not violate the Local Government Ethics Law, the Board "voted to dismiss the complaint as having no factual basis."

The ethics matter was initiated by a January 19, 2012 complaint by John Paff, Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project.  Paff's complaint was based on two articles (here and here) that he had read in the Parsippany Patch. According to the articles, Barberio wrote to Superior Court Judge David H. Ironson on behalf of Daniel Moses, the son of Barberio's friend, who was facing sentencing after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute eight pounds of marijuana.  According to the articles, the letter, which was written on Township letterhead, said "I hope the court will be as lenient as possible when sentencing Daniel ..."  A member of the public criticized Barberio for using Township letterhead because the leniency request "does not represent the citizens of Parsippany."  Also, according to the articles, an unnamed Morris County assistant prosecutor stated that the letter was inappropriate because the Parsippany-Troy Hills Police Department was involved in the investigation and prosecution of Moses.

According to the articles, Township attorney John Inglesino wrote that questioning the appropriateness of the letter revealed a lack of knowledge regarding how the legal system works.  Justin Marchetta, an associate in Inglesino's law firm, is quoted as saying that Mayor Barberio's letter was "legal, ethical and appropriate."

The complaint and the Local Finance Board's determination are on-line here.

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