Mayor James Barberio was not out of line to send a letter to a Superior Court judge asking for leniency in a drug case involving the son of a friend last year, according to a ruling from the state Department of Community Affairs' Local Finance Board in response to a complaint lodged against Parsippany's chief executive.
The body, however, failed to address the mayor's use of official township letterhead for what the LFB characterized in its denial to the complainant as "a personal letter."
The issue arose in October 2011, when Barberio wrote a letter on behalf of his friend's son, Daniel Moses, who awaited sentencing after his guilty plea to charges of conspiracy to distribute eight pounds of marijuana.
Moses, then 26, ultimately was sentenced by Morris County Superior Court Judge David H. Ironson to five years in prison, with an option for parole in one year.
At the Nov. 22, 2011, Township Council meeting, the mayor was hit with sharp criticism. Resident Roy Messmer chided Barberio for sending the letter on town letterhead.
Railing against drug abuse in the township before the council, Messmer stated his disapproval of defending a confessed drug offender.
"This does not represent the citizens of Parsippany," Messmer told the mayor.
At the time, attorney Justin Marchetta, filling in for and using notes by Township Attorney John Inglesino, said the letter was "legal, ethical and appropriate."
Open government activists were not satisfied with Inglesino's legal opinion, and one took action.
In January 2012, John Paff, who chairs the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project, filed a complaint with the Local Finance Board. Paff alleged that Barberio violated a state law that says “[n]o local government officer or employee shall use or attempt to use his official position to secure unwarranted privileges or advantages for himself or others."
In a letter dated Nov. 21, Local Finance Board Chairperson Thomas H. Neff disagreed with Paff's contention.
"Mayors have no direct statutory involvement with the selection of Superior Court judges or county prosecutors," Neff wrote, adding that "elected officials do not, upon taking office, give up their right to support friends and neighbors that other community members may provide."
The board ultimately dismissed Paff's complaint, saying it had "no factual basis."
Patch has requests for comment in to the mayor and to Paff.
The complaint and the Local Finance Board's response are available online.