Following is my letter to the Cumberland County Prosecutor's Office and Bridgeton City Officials regarding the Bridgeton Municipal Court's continued practice of downgrading statutory violations to a municipal code provision that hasn't been in effect since 2003.
I contacted the Prosecutor's Office regarding the same issue in 2010 and was told that it was resolved. Unfortunately, the superseded code provision is still being used.
April 22, 2015
Jennifer Webb-McCrae, Cumberland County Prosecutor
Rebecca J. Bertram, Bridgeton City Solicitor
Marie L. Keith, Bridgeton Municipal Court Administrator
Dear Prosecutor McCrae and Mesdames Bertram and Keith:
We wish to register our complaint regarding the Bridgeton Municipal Court's continued practice of allowing statutory charges to be pled down to violations of a superseded, preempted City Code provision. Following are the elements of our complaint:
1. Ordinance “CO 4-3.2D” is a provision from the Bridgeton City code as it was numbered prior to the Code being completely recodified on October 6, 2003. Similar provisions contained in the superseded § 4-3.2 are presently codified as § 251-9 of the present City Code.
2. “CO 4-3.2D” (i.e. § 4-3.2(d) of the superseded code) prohibited "loitering" that would:
Obstruct, molest or interfere with any person lawfully in any public place. This paragraph shall include the making of unsolicited remarks of an offensive, disgusting or insulting nature or which are calculated to annoy or disturb the person to, or in whose hearing, they are made.
3. The present Code § 251-9 does not contain an identical proscription. Rather, § 251-9 proscribes the following two types of "loitering":
Obstruct[ing] any public street, public highway, public sidewalk or any other public place or building by hindering or impeding or tending to hinder or impede the free and uninterrupted passage of vehicles, traffic or pedestrians, or
Commit[ting] in or upon any public street, public highway, public sidewalk or any other public place or building any act or thing which is an obstruction or interference to the free and uninterrupted use of property or with any business lawfully conducted by anyone in or upon or facing or fronting on any such public street, public highway, public sidewalk or any other public place or building, all of which prevents the free and uninterrupted ingress, egress and regress, therein, thereon and thereto.
4. Despite the fact that § 4-3.2(d) has not existed since 2003, the Bridgeton Municipal Court has, as recently as February 2015, downgraded statutory offenses to violations of § 4-3.2(d). See, e.g. several complaints, on-line here, where Title 2C disorderly conduct, assault, hindering apprehension and trespassing offenses have been downgraded to § 4-3.2(d) violations by Prosecutors Demetrica Todd-Hunter and Brock Russell.
5. On April 1, 2010 (letter on-line here), I complained to the Cumberland County Prosecutor's Office that downgrading statutory charges to § 4-3.2(d) violations was prohibited by a 1998 Attorney General Directive.
6. In her August 13, 2010 response (on-line here) Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae advised me that the 1998 Directive was "still in effect" and that it was important for municipal prosecutors to "make every effort to obey this directive and avoid improper downgrades." She said that she had "been in contact with the City Solicitor for the City of Bridgeton" and that the Solicitor has "taken steps to see that new problems do not arise."
7. Despite Prosecutor Webb-McRae's intervention in 2010, the Bridgeton Municipal Court continues to allow statutory charges to be downgraded to § 4-3.2(d) even though § 4-3.2(d) has not existed since 2003 and even though it is preempted by the New Jersey Criminal Code.
I ask that the recipients of this letter please cause this practice to cease.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Very truly yours,
John Paff, Chairman
New Jersey Libertarian Party's
Preempted Ordinance Repeal Project
P.O. Box 5424
Somerset, NJ 08875