By now observers of New Jersey politics are likely aware that Hamilton Township Mayor Kelly Yaede has been criminally charged for releasing the expunged police record of her primary election opponent. Read here, here or here.
I’ve never met Yaede, never talked with her, wouldn’t know her if I tripped over her. In fact, I don’t even know how to pronounce her last name – I asked someone earlier today and already forgot the answer. That’s how much I care.
What I do care about are politicos who file charges against other folks involved in politics over expunged criminal/police records. And, I do know something about releasing expunged police records. I didn’t know they were expunged and the guy who had me (and my clients) charged never bothered to prove the expungement(s). Eventually, the case was dismissed due to insufficient evidence.
What I learned was the law in New Jersey is clear, one has to “knowingly” release expunged records to be “guilty” of anything.
As I understand it, Yaede obtained the police/criminal records through an OPRA request. If that is indeed the case there is no way she could know the records were expunged, because any reasonable person would assume they wouldn’t be given the records if they were expunged. Not guilty!
Furthermore, since I do have plenty of experience with the issue of releasing expunged criminal records (I’ve released them in more than just this state) I know the courts tend to side with the releaser of the information. In fact, right here in New Jersey, the State Supreme Court in G.D. v. BERNARD KENNY and THE HUDSON COUNTY DEMOCRATIC ORGANIZATION, INC. was clear that expungement “does not extinguish the truth.” From the case:
The issue before us arises in the realm of political discourse, where speech is often harsh and caustic, but where the constitutional guarantee of free expression is given great latitude. Although our expungement statute relieves a prior offender of some civil disabilities, it does not extinguish the truth.
The moral to the story is simple: if you want to run for office and have ever been in trouble with the law just assume, even if expunged, the information is getting out. And, it should get out because those who wish to hold office are held to a higher standard – and they should be. Don’t hide anything from the voters, they have a right to know.