Convicted ex-mayor loses pension fight in what he calls an 'insult to justice'

An appeals court has refused to reinstate a year of retirement benefits for a former Newark mayor who worked as an Essex County Collegeprofessor, ruling that it was reasonable for the pension program to strip Sharpe James of those earnings because of his federal conviction

James, Newark's mayor for 20 years who served 18 months in prison, called the Appellate Division decision "ludicrous and an insult to justice and fair play," he told NJ Advance Media in an email. 

At issue was James' yearlong service as a senior fellow and municipal government professor for Essex County College's Urban Issues Institute between 2006-07. He earned $150,000 in a position created specially for him, according to the case. 

Prior to becoming Newark's mayor, James worked at Essex County College for 18 years as a physical education instructor, eventually chairing the department, according to court papers. He returned to the college in 2006 at the end of his mayoral term. 

The New Jersey Division of Pensions and Benefits revoked his pension earnings for his last year at the college, citing that James' conviction by a jury on mail fraud charges was a betrayal of public trust and brought dishonor on his teaching position, according to court records. 

An administrative law judge initially ruled that the credits should be applied because the misconduct "did not involve greed or personal enrichment and did not result in financial loss to the citizens of Newark."

But the Division of Pensions and Benefits rejected that argument. James appealed, arguing in court that the conviction was unrelated to his role at the college.

The Appellate Division subsequently upheld the decision by the Division of Pensions and Benefits. The three-judge panel wrote that it was reasonable to conclude that James' "misconduct as mayor brought dishonor on his position at ECC, where he served as a teacher and role model to college students."

In a lengthy response to NJ Advance Media, James insisted he should have been a free man. One of the key charges against him -- theft of honest services -- was overturned by an appeals court after he served his time behind bars. His conviction on four other counts were upheld in the high-profile case in which James was accused of questionable land deals with a close, personal friend that he did not disclose his relationship with.

James wrote to NJ Advance Media that denying "his exemplary earned pension at Essex County College from July 1, 2006 through July 1, 2007, when he had not been charged with any wrongdoing, no unfavorable press, no indictment and being praised widely by the administration, faculty, students and community is unwarranted and unfair."

 

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