Marcellus Jackson resigns, Gov Phil Murphy under fire

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Marcellus Jackson
Marcellus Jackson in 2007 during his trial for bribery.

Marcellus Jackson, the controversial ex-felon appointed by Governor Phil Murphy, resigned Friday from his position in the New Jersey Department of Education, following a review by state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.

Phil Murphy – not so comfortable now

Jackson was hired on a $70,000 annual salary in July as an aide to education commissioner Lamont Repollet. The appointment caused controversy in mid-September when his new position became public knowledge. In 2007 Jackson, then a Passaic City Councilman, was convicted on federal charges after accepting over $26,000 from undercover FBI agents. He served twenty-five months in prison, and was released in 2011.

In September Governor Murphy insisted that procedures had been followed, and that hiring former ex-felons was a good thing. Speaking last month he said:

“The details of the legal review I think I won’t address other than we feel completely comfortable with the process Marcellus went through.

“I hope we see a lot more of this, that somebody made a mistake, they admitted it, they repented it, they paid their price.”

Being comfortable with the process turns out not to be enough to make something legal, however.

Marcellus Jackson and his missing application

Speaking Friday, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal confirmed that Jackson had resigned his position.

According to Grewal, Jackson never should have been hired. New Jersey law should have prevented him from public employment after his conviction. Normally the state attorney general of county prosecutor makes an application to the court to enforce this, but in Jackson’s case the application was not made.

“As a result,” Grewal said, “there was no order or other record in the state’s files indicating that he was precluded from public office in New Jersey.”

The unexplained failure to issue the order did not create a loophole for Marcellus Jackson, however. According to Grewal, “The statute does not allow for any discretion.”

More missing public employment exclusion orders

While the rebuff by the state Attorney General is highly embarrassing for Murphy, the investigation into Marcellus Jackson has produced an unexpected benefit. It turns out he is not the only ex-felon with a missing order barring public employment.

New Jersey’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability discovered other cases similar to Jackson’s, which are now under review. The OPIA will also try to determine why exactly Marcellus Jackson’s exclusion was never filed.

Meanwhile, Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi’s proposed bill to tackle the problem with new legislation is picking up steam. Forty fellow lawmakers have signed onto her bill which bans ex-felons from taking public employment (whether an application has been filed or not). Although the additional support his helpful, the bill’s fate remains uncertain.

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