“The state believes they should not be allowed back into their positions,” said Little Silver Prosecutor Mike Halfacre, who is also the mayor of neighboring Fair Haven. “Forfeiture (of their positions) in my eyes, and in the state’s eyes, is automatic.”
Citing a state statute (2c: 51-2), Halfacre argued that Peter Lang IV and his brother Steven Lang, who are both longtime firefighters whose line officer positions have been vacant since the beginning of the year, should not be allowed to fill those or any other officer positions certainly for the rest of the year, and possibly forever, he said.
The statute says any officers in a public position convicted of any offense that involves dishonesty or touches upon the defendant’s role in office, or a conviction greater than the third degree, mandates the forfeiture of that office held.
The Langs were convicted late last month of disorderly persons offenses against fellow volunteer Justin Hughes, stemming from a brief brawl at the department’s wet-down celebration, where the Langs assaulted Hughes. Hughes was convicted of harassment in the case.
Since he is not eligible for any line officer position, it’s unlikely whether the statute would apply to Hughes. Halfacre said he has no position on Hughes’ status in the department.
It’s also unclear whether the statute, if applied to any of the defendants, would ban them from public office positions permanently. Halfacre said the statute says removal from office is permanent.
“There are a lot of unanswered legal questions,” Halfacre said.
Because of those uncertainties, Judge James Berube Jr.’s scheduled sentencing of the Langs and Hughes was delayed until September. Attorneys on both sides will spend the next month preparing arguments whether the statute should be applied. Thus, another delay in a case that has dragged out on the municipal level for close to a year.
“I would love to wave a magic wand and end this today,” said William Wilson, attorney for the Langs. “But I think the forfeiture issue is a substantial one.”
Peter Lang was set to move up the ladder into the assistant chief position this year, and Steven Lang was slated for the second lieutenant role. Those positions have sat vacant all year, with the brothers maintaining their previously held officer positions.
Halfacre, after consulting with Sea Bright, said he had the discretion to waive the forfeiture statute, but elected to pursue it.
“It is my discretion as the prosecutor,” he said. “This is not the borough of Sea Bright asking for a forfeiture. This is me, the prosecutor, asking for forfeiture.”
In addition to facing possible banishment from their positions, all three men face up to six months in jail and $1,000 in fines when they are expected to be sentenced by Berube. on September 1.
“There may be some severe consequences,” Berube said.