N.J. State Police Unions Continue To Fight To Allow Troopers To privately Practice Law

nj statepoliceState Police unions are continuing their fight to allow troopers to privately practice law, sending their case to a federal appeals court. The state two years ago said permitting troopers to work as attorneys presents a conflict of interest, an argument U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson upheld when she dismissed the unions’ lawsuit in July.┬áMichael Bukosky, lawyer for the police unions, said the troopers’ legal work -such as drafting wills or helping with real estate closings -is completely unrelated to criminal issues.

“There has never been a problem,” he said. “It’s more likely that a comet is going to hit the Statehouse.”

The unions are arguing the state’s policy has effectively disbarred the troopers.

“If you analyzed the case through that lens, the outcome would be much different,” said Bukosky, who said he will file a brief in about a month. The attorney has filed a notice of appeal, and the case is headed for the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.

“An appeal doesn’t change our opinion of the ethics guidelines,” said David Wald, spokesman for Attorney General Anne Milgram.

Bukosky said the state encouraged troopers to get law degrees and shifted them into positions within the State Police where their knowledge would be put to good use. But the troopers also were able to privately practice civil law.

“They feel like they’ve been betrayed,” he said. “A promise was made, and a promise was broken.”

He said up to 30 troopers have passed the bar.

Frederick J. Gordon, president of the Non-Commissioned Officers Association, said troopers had invested in their law degrees as a means to supplement their incomes with part-time work.

“They spent their money to go to school,” he said. “They put their time in to go to school to better themselves, and they’re not being allowed to use that degree right now.”

Troopers were able to privately practice law until a 2007 change to the state’s ethics code. Up until then, almost all attorneys in the Department of Law and Public Safety were barred from practicing law outside their jobs. The revision extended that prohibition to state troopers.

Wolfson, the federal judge, agreed with the state that there are potential conflicts of interest.

“By way of example, if a trooper is retained to draft a will for a client and happens to come across nefarious, possibly illegal, activity during his review of his client’s confidential personal records, the trooper would find himself in an unenviable position, obligated by his duties as an officer of the law to report the crime while simultaneously constrained by his oath as an attorney to protect his client’s confidences,” she wrote

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