Teachers in New Jersey and Criminal Charges

I have represented many educators who were charged with criminal offenses such as theft and shoplifting, drug possession, assault, etc. Unfortunately, the ramifications of a conviction go beyond a criminal record.

Depending upon your position (teacher, teacher’s assistant, aid, etc.) the consequences are different in my experience. For example, a teacher with a contract will be sent a flagging notice from the state advising he/she that the record reflects an arrest or charge. The letter will also state obligations that the employee has during the pendency of the matter including keeping the board advised of the progress of the case ( I always make sure that I am the one who makes that communication, never my client). The outcome of the case will determine, under most circumstances, whether you keep your job. Not all offenses are disqualifying, but many are, especially drug related charges. Teachers at least get the opportunity to litigate the case before the board takes any final action, meaning if we can avoid a conviction or fashion a plea agreement that fits our goals, you will be in good shape.

The is not the story for many other schools employees. Substitute teacher, aids, administrators and other employees (coaches even) can be terminated immediately upon being charged. However, this may be reversible if we are able to win the case or reach a resolution that smartly fits within the regulations.

It often comes as a real shock to these individuals when they receive that initial notice in the mail . There could be a tremendous amount riding on the outcome of the case. Aside from the loss of employment, pensions, health insurance and other important benefits could be cancelled.

I recently represented a coach who was hired by the school district for that purpose only. He quickly was terminated when the record of his drug arrest (a joint) went into the system. However, there were verbal promises made to him that he could return to coaching should his charged be dismissed or if his offense was amended to something other than a NJSA 2C offense. This meant that we either would have to win at trial or have the case downgraded to an ordinance violation. Even a conditional discharge would not suffice. According to the rules promulgated by this state board, a conditional discharge would prohibit the rehiring of the school employee for the entirety of the probationary period (at least one year) and made any future employment offers discretionary ( this means its tough to get rehired unless you complete the CD and have the arrest expunged).

The case took about two months to work out, but it worked out well. Although plea bargaining is not allowed in drug cases, there were enough legal issues with the case that the prosecutor felt justified in offering an ordinance violation.

Each one of these cases is a little different and dependent upon, inter alia, the nature of the offense and your position at the school. If you are working in a school system and need help feel free to reach out to us.

 

 

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