The Appellate Division concluded in relevant part: Further, when defendant took the $300 bribe, he significantly and materially breached the public’s trust. Indeed, honest, hardworking taxpayers and property owners have the right to expect, require, and demand that public servants perform their jobs honorably. That certainly is true with respect to zoning decisions which necessarily affect the health and safety of the tenants and owners of the affected properties. It is beyond peradventure that those decisions must be based on the diligent and conscientious application of the law to the relevant facts, as appropriate, and not the result of illegal payments, even a bribe of $300, which may appear to be a modest sum, but in actuality is a colossal amount when measured against the damage to the public trust caused by that illegal act.
We acknowledge that the court in Bettencourt deemed the pension forfeiture in that case to be constitutionally excessive. In doing so, it concluded that “no harm to the public fisc was accomplished or threatened,” “there was no improper or illegal gain involved,” “the offenses did not warrant concern about protection of the public,” and Bettencourt received no “personal benefit, profit, or gain from his actions.” Bettencourt, 47 N.E.3d at 680. Here, defendant was not convicted of effectively “snooping” on his colleagues’ test results. Id. at 679. He took money illegally to perform a function he was being paid to honorably discharge. As noted, our Legislature in enacting N.J.S.A. 43:1-3.1 deemed that conduct sufficiently egregious to warrant a complete pension forfeiture and we conclude that such a remedy is not constitutionally disproportionate.
Having considered the Legislature’s determination that total forfeiture of pension benefits is an appropriate consequence of certain public employee misconduct, and that the punishment here was not grossly disproportional in comparison to the gravity of his offense, we conclude that forfeiture of defendant’s pension was not excessive under either the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution or Article I, Paragraph 12 of the New Jersey Constitution. Affirmed.
The $300 bribe in this case was given by a cooperating witness. It is likely that witness committed an offense far more serious than receipt of a $300 bribe. Still, the cooperating witness ends up getting a reduced penalty for his/her offense(s) and the defendant here loses out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in retirement benefits.