Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Former Washington Councilwoman found to have violated ethics law, $100 fine waived.

On January 2, 2018, Administrative Law Judge Edward J. Delanoy, Jr. affirmed a December 17, 2016 ruling by the Local Finance Board, the primary enforcer of New Jersey's Local Government Ethics Law, that found that a former Washington Township (Gloucester Township) Councilwoman violated the ethics law by voting  "aye" on a resolution that awarded a contract to a law firm in which her sister was a shareholder.

According to Judge Delanoy's decision, former Washington Councilwoman Michelle Martin, at the Township's January 6, 2014 reorganization meeting, seconded and voted in favor of a resolution to engage the services of a law firm in which her sister, Prudence M. Higbee, was a shareholder.  While neither Judge Delanoy's decision nor the underlying Notice of Violation identify Higbee's firm, the website of the Mount Laurel law firm of Capehart & Scatchard notes that Higbee is a shareholder in that firm and the minutes of the January 6, 2014 meeting show that Martin did second and vote in favor of Resolution 16-2014 that authorized a contract with Capehart & Scatchard "for legal services as labor counsel."  According the decision, after the motion was passed "Higbee executed the professional services agreement on behalf of the law firm."

Judge Delanoy found that Martin was conflicted from voting on the matter because she had "a direct or indirect financial or personal involvement that might reasonably be expected to impair [her] objectivity or independence of judgment." "Higbee has a responsibility to bring in business to the firm and will benefit from adding the Township to the firm's book of business," he wrote. "This appears to be a straightforward example of an 'indirect pecuniary interest.'"

For reasons that were not stated, the Board fined Martin $100 but waived the fine.