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Former Haddon Township Commissioner Loses Appeal for Pre-Trial Intervention

Besides being a Haddon Township Commissioner  Paul

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Paul Dougherty
(photo courtesy of The Courier Post)

Dougherty, an attorney, was the former municipal prosecutor in Cherry Hill, Clementon, Gloucester City, and Medford.


William E. Cleary Sr. | CNBNews



(CNBNews)HADDON TOWNSHIP, NJ (February 8,  2021)--Former Haddon
Township Commissioner Paul Dougherty's request to enter the Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI) was denied by the Superior Court of NJ on January 15, 2021.

Dougherty, an attorney, was the former municipal prosecutor in Cherry Hill, Clementon, Gloucester City, and Medford.

He served as Commissioner from 2007 until he resigned in 2018. During his term in office, he was paid $21,000 annually. 

Dougherty was charged with receiving a $7,106 payment from a law firm as a fee for referring a Township employee in litigation against the community in direct
violation of state law. According to the court papers, he plead guilty to this offense on July 30, 2018.

On October 31, 2018, the former Commissioner filed for PTI and on the following day, November 1, the state objected to his admission into the program because of the serious nature of his crime; and the consequential erosion of the public's faith in the impartiality of our criminal justice system.

The State noted that: 

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The  Deputy Attorney General (DAG) argued that the facts of the case provided sufficient grounds to support the State's objection to the defendant's admission to PTI. The DAG provided the following summary of these salient facts: 

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Defendant's appeal of the State's rejection of the PTI application came forth during oral argument before the trial court on February 7, 2019. Defense counsel argued defendant did not act in a corrupt manner nor violate the essential duties of his elected office when he referred a municipal employee to a law firm for legal advice. As  framed by defense counsel:

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The DAG presented a starkly different account of the defendant's conduct and the implications that a reasonable person can infer from it. After a municipal received what she believed to be an unsatisfactory response from Human Resources, the aggrieved employee approached the defendant in his official role as Township Commissioner, according to court documents. The employee spoke with defendant Doherty briefly about her situation and asked him for help. As explained by the DAG:

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Court documents show the DAG noted that defendant Dougherty received a letter from the specific law firm in May 2013 "thanking him for the referral."

Documents further stated the DAG said the law firm's letter was basically their acknowledgment that his was an official referral from one legal office to another. When the litigation was resolved in 2015, the defendant received a letter from the law firm advising him of the facts that ended the litigation and transmitting the check payable to the defendant in the amount of $7,106, constituting his referral fee. 

 The documents further state in July 2018, detectives from the AG's Criminal Division formally advised Dougherty that there was an ongoing investigation concerning this matter. A  few days later the defendant returned the monies to the law firm.  The DAG said the State was prepared to charge and prosecute Dougherty for second-degree official misconduct which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years imprisonment. After intense negotiation, the State allowed a defendant to plead guilty to third-degree conspiracy to confer an unlawful benefit on a public official. NJSA 2C:5-2 and NJSA 2C:27-11 (b). 

The trial judge denied Dougherty's request to admit him into the Pretrial Intervention Program, because of the crime he plead guilty to carries a presumption against the admission into that program, according to the court documents.  And, a judge is empowered to admit a defendant into PTI over the prosecutor's objection only if the record shows clearly and convincingly that the prosecution decision constituted a patent and gross abuse of discretion.

The trial judge found the defendant did not meet this burden of proof. 

February 19, 2019, the trial court sentenced Dougherty to a two-year term of probation, conditioned upon the defendant surrender his firearms purchaser identification card, undergoing a substance abuse evaluation, and treatment at the discretion of his probation officer.

As for Dougherty's February 2020 appeal, the court again found that he did not meet the burden of proof.  "The trial judge correctly found defendant did not rebut the presumption against the admission into PTI codified in Rule 3:28-1(e)(1)."