Sunday, May 21, 2017

Ethics Committee charges Sussex County municipal prosecutor for prosecuting electric theft case while his brother was electric company's chairman.

On March 2, 2017, the District IX Ethics Committee filed a formal complaint against a municipal prosecutor in Sussex County who prosecuted a Wantage man for allegedly stealing electricity from the Sussex Rural Electric Cooperative while the Cooperative's chairman was the prosecutor's brother.  The ethics complaint alleges that the prosecutor was under a duty to disclose this relationship and that his failure to do so "is reasonably certain to mislead" the municipal court.

The complaint is against William T. Haggerty who serves as prosecutor of a joint municipal court covering Sussex Borough and Wantage and Stillwater Townships.  According to the complaint, David Zukowski of Wantage, who was on trial for allegedly stealing electricity from the Cooperative, asked Charles Tate, the Cooperative's witness, during cross-examination whether the Cooperative's Board of Directors Chairman--Jack Haggerty, Jr.--was related to Prosecutor Haggerty.  In response, Tate said that he had just become aware that day that the prosecutor and chairman were brothers. According to an excerpt from trial trial transcript set forth in the ethics complaint, Municipal Court Judge Craig U. Dana immediately declared a mistrial.

Paperwork supplied by Zukowski shows that he was ultimately found not guilty of the theft of services charge on October 7, 2013.

Zukowski had previously accused Judge Dana of being conflicted because he had previously been appointed judge by the Wantage Township Committee while the Township attorney's law firm served as the Cooperative's general counsel and because F. Parker Space, currently a member of the New Jersey Assembly, previously appointed Dana while Space served on the Cooperative's Board of Directors.  (These allegations are taken from Zukowski's November 4, 2011 letter to Presiding Municipal Court Judge Frank J. Zinna and have not been verified.)  Judge Dana ruled, however, that he was not conflicted from the matter because he was appointed as the joint court's judge by the governor and not by either the Wantage Township Committee or the Sussex County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

In his April 6, 2017 answer to the charges (available at the link in the first paragraph), Haggerty admits that his brother Jack was the chairman of the Cooperative's Board of Directors at the time of the trial but that he "did not consider [his] brother's position as Director to be relevant to the proceeding in municipal court since [he] had never spoken to him about the incident."  He also wrote that he was never "personally close" to his brother and sees him only at Thanksgiving dinner and when he "bumped into him at the grocery store in Newton."

"I regret not having contemplated that the relationship with my brother could present a concern for the Court," Haggerty wrote.  "I would urge that this was not due to any intent to mislead the Court through failure to provide material information to the Court but rather only due to my failure to appreciate that the information might be deemed as material to the proceeding before the Court."

In addition to being prosecutor, Haggerty also serves as attorney for Stillwater Township's Planning and Zoning Boards and may also serve in similar positions in other area municipalities.

The ethics matter is being presented (i.e. prosecuted) by Westfield lawyer Marcie L. Mackolin and Mr. Haggerty is representing himself.

What is written above is just a summary and the complaint and Haggerty's answer, should be read in their entirety in order to obtain the best understanding of the case.  The ethics charges are only allegations--nothing has been proven. Haggerty has a right to a hearing and the burden of proof is on disciplinary officials to prove that he violated the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Since 1995, attorney disciplinary hearings have been open to the public. Anyone who is interested in being notified in advance of any hearings on Haggerty's matter may complete and send a hearing request form to the District IX Ethics Committee Secretary Joseph M. Casello via fax to 732-751-1866.