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The New Jersey Office of the Public Defender, usually in the business of working to thwart prosecutions, let fly a full-scale dragnet last summer that would even do Kenneth Starr proud. Acting on tips that a management dispute in its Ocean County branch was antagonizing trial judges and possibly affecting clients, Acting Public Defender Peter Garcia began an audit that spiraled into a prosecution-style investigation, embroiling 13 officials in the department. Garcia’s staff interrogated 36 witnesses, including three judges. They also surreptitiously monitored the Ocean County office employees’ e-mail, computers, telephone records, time sheets, calendars, message pads and vehicle logs. The probe culminated in January with a report sent to the Executive Commission on Ethical Standards, stating that at least two managers of the Ocean County office — including its chief, Robert Tarver — engaged in secondary employment in contravention of the department’s rules. A draft of the report, obtained by the New Jersey Law Journal last week from a source close to the investigation, provides a glimpse into the dispute and the extent to which the state went to get to the bottom of it. The probe focused at first on Tarver’s accusations of insubordination by staff attorney Gerald Boswell, who in turn had accused Tarver of piling up unwarranted absences. Tarver, the report alleges, falsified his timesheets and spent numberless days AWOL, appearing on television shows as a legal commentator. Clients angrily called the office because they could not reach him at work even though they could see him on television, the report says. One of the judges interviewed, Vincent Grasso, said he was “always chasing” Tarver, whom he called unresponsive to his court. The report also lists Tarver’s private clients, who include the manager of “Survivor” contestant Ramona Gray, Mark Kibble of the Grammy-winning “Take 6,” and producers for Rosie O’Donnell’s and Oprah Winfrey’s TV shows. It further says Tarver tried to thwart the investigation by wiping and switching hard drives between two computers. Perhaps most seriously, it concludes that Tarver’s absenteeism — including appearances on “The Early Show with Bryant Gumbel” — may have hurt clients by adding to delays in their cases. The report largely exonerates Boswell, even though Ocean County Judge Peter Giovine had complained that his clients had languished in jail for weeks due to delays caused by confusion over Boswell’s disability leave and the changing dates of his retirement. Finally, according to the audit’s authors, a “crisis engendered by reaction to the audit” occurred. That triggered the exit from the Ocean office of the lawyers at the focus of the investigation, and Tarver filed a discrimination lawsuit against Garcia and his office. At the heart of the investigation was the clash between Tarver and Boswell, which had been simmering since December 1999. Giovine wrote Tarver complaining that Boswell had refused to attend a 9 a.m. hearing, despite phoned entreaties from the courtroom. Boswell had been interviewing the parents of a young defendant, a couple who had traveled “a great distance” to the appointment, according to the report, and claimed that Giovine had arranged the court date without his knowledge. The dispute escalated in May 2001 when Boswell was assigned a death-penalty case, State v. Gregory Butler, in which Tarver knew the victim. To avoid a conflict of interest, Tarver reassigned Boswell to the Trenton office, removed Boswell’s files from his office and demanded that his presence in Ocean County be limited to picking up and delivering paperwork. According to Tarver, Boswell refused to leave and defiantly kept appearing in Ocean County, on at least one occasion in a T-shirt and shorts. In June, Tarver and Boswell sent their complaints to Garcia in Trenton. Tarver claimed he was being discriminated against because he is black, but did not detail how or by whom. Boswell alleged that Tarver “never seems to be in the office” and that “sooner or later the press is going to ask how a full-time Deputy could on a regular basis be on TV during working hours.” Boswell claimed that Tarver’s media profile was the source of jokes within the local courthouse. On June 14, 2001, Garcia assigned two assistant public defenders, Regina Sauter and Leah Morris, to conduct the audit. Sauter had worked in the Ocean office from 1993 to 1997 as a staff attorney when Tarver was first assistant public defender, and she had a history with the people involved, as did Morris, who supervised the Ocean region from Trenton at the time. Garcia gave them free reign to conduct their investigation, and the pair took full advantage of the latitude. According to their report, they conducted interviews with anyone in the Ocean County legal community who would talk to them. Many were interviewed twice. Tarver, who was tracked down on June 20 on his cell phone by Sauter while he was en route to Washington, D.C., for an appearance on BET-TV, declined to cooperate with the audit, and went on sick leave after it began. During the audit, “The stress and strain [in the office] was incredible. People were afraid to speak,” Tarver said in an interview last Thursday. Believing that Garcia was out to ruin him for alleging discrimination, Tarver started taping his telephone calls. Tarver claims he has a tape of Garcia telling him during the investigation, “Don’t talk to anybody by yourself because people will make things up.” Two names are missing from the report’s list of interviewees: Garcia and his immediate deputy, First Assistant Joel Harris, even though many documents serving as source material for Tarver’s lawsuit and the audit are memos to and from Garcia and Harris. “Myself and Mr. Harris were not interviewed … because these were issues contained to the Ocean office,” Garcia says in a statement released last Thursday. “Additionally, as the most senior OPD official, I would be sitting as the ‘trier of fact,’ as it were, and it would be no more appropriate for me to be interviewed than it would for a judge or a member of a jury to be called as a witness during a trial.” Garcia expanded the investigation in July, allowing Sauter and Morris remote access to the e-mail of Tarver, Boswell and four other staffers in the Ocean office. “Any information that could be retrieved from the server (accessed remotely) was also viewed,” the report states. Sauter and Morris sifted through staffers’ Web browsers, personal files and archived records of “chats” in which the staffers had taken part. They found that Tarver and one other man had allegedly used their computers to view pornography, and two women had used their machines for “lengthy” chats and online shopping “a majority of the time.” One of those women, Tarver’s administrative assistant, was not supposed to have had Internet access but “somehow” acquired it independently. She also kept a personal list of all Ocean staffers’ passwords and logon identities. These discoveries led to one of the more comical episodes alleged in the report. On Friday, July 13, “permission was given” — it does not say by whom — to copy the hard drives of Tarver and others in the office. The audit found that when Tarver’s PC booted up, it displayed a logon prompt for Boswell, who by this time was working at another office. The computer in Boswell’s old office booted up with a generic version of the Windows operating software, and not the public defender’s custom package. Experts from Kroll Information Security Group concluded that Boswell’s old machine had been “wiped” clean on June 26 and that the new Windows package had been installed on July 9. Sauter and Morris then talked to Investigator Jack Valenti who said “he did specifically recall seeing Mr. Tarver carrying the ‘brains’ of a PC into the office that had once been assigned to Mr. Boswell.” Their conclusion: “Mr. Tarver then switched his computer with the one that remained … and [thus] the computer had the ability of escaping scrutiny for an extended period of time.” All that was found on Boswell’s machine was a small number of personal documents. Garcia says all technology and communications in the office are the property of the state, and that his office reserves the right to see that it is used solely for government business. “I have an obligation to the taxpayers,” he says in his statement. It was not until Aug. 16, two months after the start of the audit, that Sauter and Morris gained access to Tarver’s office. They claim he did not provide them with a key. Once inside, they discovered a “‘disaster area.’ In it were files in disarray, piles of old mail, and items whose timely processing were ignored or neglected.” When the audit report was completed in January, it said Tarver had violated the OPD’s Code of Ethics, N.J.S.A. 52:13D-12 and N.J.A.C. 19:61-2.2. The violations cover a raft of offenses, mainly regarding his alleged failure to get permission to engage in private practice and outside employment with TV shows, and regarding alleged falsification of time sheets to say he was in the office when he was on the air. The other official cited for unauthorized secondary employment was First Assistant Deputy Public Defender George Koukos, who draws a cartoon for the State Bar Association’s newspaper, New Jersey Lawyer, twice a month. Meanwhile, Tarver had resigned in protest and filed suit in mid-December, alleging racial discrimination under the state Law Against Discrimination and retaliation in contravention of the Conscientious Employee Protection Act. Tarver says he believes Garcia refused to support him as manager of the Ocean office and aided white Ocean employees in undermining his authority. “This is an unprecedented effort by Public Defender management involving an incredible use of resources and personnel in a singular effort to attack one person,” Tarver says. “I’ve said it before, Public Defender Management knew about the things I did outside of the office, they knew about my activities and there was no problem until I complained in June of 2001,” he adds. Garcia says he has done nothing wrong. “The allegations were of a serious nature, and because they were so serious, senior OPD management wanted to make sure no stone was unturned.” He also reiterates that attempts had been made to conceal evidence from the investigators. As for the report’s recommendations, they focused primarily on Tarver: “Public Defender Management recommends intensive management training for Mr. Tarver to address his shortcomings.” The office is currently being run by Acting Deputy Public Defender Ed Byrne. Garcia’s office has until April 26 to respond to Tarver’s suit.

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