Judge dismisses charges against former Brick superintendent
BRICK — The future of the case against former Brick Township Public School Superintendent Walter Uszenski and his two co-defendants is up in the air after a judge dismissed most of the charges against them on Tuesday. The Ocean County Prosecutor's Office is deciding whether to appeal.
Uszenski, along with his daughter, Jacqueline Halsey, and former Director of Special Services Andrew Morgan, had been charged with official misconduct and other offenses after authorities alleged Halsey's son had gotten extra benefits by attending a preschool out of the district, and questions were raised about the legitimacy of claims that he had special needs.
Superior Court Judge Lisa B. Roe dismissed most of the charges after it was determined that several key pieces of exculpatory evidence were not presented to the grand juries convened for the case, including that Halsey's child had been classified as having special needs before Uszenski was hired, and that the child had struggled after being placed in a regular classroom.
In her opinion Tuesday, the judge said that as far back as January 2011 Halsey had sought to have her son referred to the New Jersey Early Intervention System, and after an evaluation from a doctor, three daycares, including the one the child attended during the time in question, were recommended to help him. Uszenski was not hired until July 2012.
Uszenski's attorney, Joseph Benedict, said the motion to dismiss the charges came after learning that some key points of evidence were not presented to the grand jury, and was glad Roe had made the decision she did.
"I think what happened here is when the prosecutor first got wind of the case it struck him as a situation where this child was getting special treatment," he said. As the defendants presented more evidence to the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office, as well as to the judge, Benedict said it became clear that there had been no wrongdoing to get the child the help he needed.
Although prosecutors made it seem like Benedict was the one who pushed for Morgan to be hired so that his grandson could get special treatment, Benedict says evidence shows that it was the Board of Education that called for the new hire. Benedict said this information was not presented to the grand jury.
Morgan had initially been hired as a consultant to audit the department and was then hired as interim director of special services. Morgan resigned from the position at the end of 2013.
"As I told the judge at oral argument, if the prosecutor had ever spoken to the mother before they ever indicted her, they would have found out everything," he said, adding that the case against the three got "has progressively gotten weaker and weaker."
In the ruling by Roe, Benedict is said to have presented the additional evidence to Executive Assistant Ocean County Prosecutor Michael Paulhus in September, and received a letter the following day stating that "none of the evidence provided by defendant would be presented to the grand jury."
While Benedict said his client was "relieved," to have the charges dropped, he added that they are waiting to see whether the prosecutor's office will appeal the dismissal.
Ocean County Prosecutor's Office spokesman Al Della Fave released a statement saying the office is "reviewing the court's written opinion and assessing our options." He said there is a 45 day window to review the ruling during which time they will decide what their next steps are.
"It is the firm belief of the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office that there has been a violation of the law and we will aggressively move forward in our efforts to continue prosecution." He added, "This is far from over."
Not all the charges were dismissed, including two against Morgan for not disclosing that he had previously been arrested or charged with a criminal offense, and declaring on his application that at no time had he not been rehired, terminated by previous employers.
However, in 1990 he pleaded guilty to third-degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance, and in 2007 he was terminated from the Liberty Charter Schools and resigned from teaching in Holmdel in 2006, with a letter of non-renewal from the Trenton Public Schools in 2009.
Court documents show he was granted a teaching certificate in 1997, also noting that "the Department of Education had no authority to either expunge or seal the prior conviction." Morgan said in court documents he did not believe he needed to report his conviction because he had been granted the teaching certificate by the state.
One charge against Lorraine Morgan, Morgan's wife, was also not dismissed. She was charged with official misconduct after the then-academic director approved a payment a payment of $149 for counseling services for Halsey's son. Morgan had previously been admitted into the pretrial intervention program last year, but the prosecutor's office is appealing that admission.
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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com