Mantua Mayor Tim Chell, now a nominee for a New Jersey Superior Court judgeship, was in line for a $41,564 pension from multiple part-time jobs as a municipal lawyer and prosecutor in Gloucester County.
That is, until the Division of Pensions and Benefits launched an examination of the records of Chell and at least 10 other lawyers to determine whether the jobs they claimed as "pensionable" warranted a retirement payout.
In Chell's case, some of them did not. The state sent him a letter in May after concluding he was due a pension of only $14,729.
The case highlights the once-blurry line between public employees and professional-services contractors in New Jersey, which until 2007 allowed often politically connected lawyers in many cases to accrue pension credits for work performed as government contractors.
Chell, 46, a Democrat, was nominated last month by Republican Gov. Christie to fill the position of departing Judge Joseph Lisa, a Democrat.
Chell is scheduled to appear Monday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will decide whether to send his nomination for a vote of the full Senate.
"Mr. Chell has served his community well, is a respected member of the legal community, and will be an outstanding member of the court," Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) said through spokesman Chris Donnelly in an e-mail.
The review of Chell's pension status originated in an investigation of former Gloucester County Democratic Committee Chairman Michael Angelini conducted by the Office of the Inspector General. Angelini worked at Chell's law firm while also accruing a pension of more than $100,000 through his legal work for local governments.
The office questioned in a 2009 report how Angelini could have built up such a pension when he appeared to be an independent contractor rather than a public employee.
The Inquirer reported in April 2010 that the Inspector General's Office referred more names that arose during the investigation to the Division of Pension and Benefits, which sent out requests for information to 41 places related to 11 people.
The state reviewed Chell's eligibility to receive pension credit for various jobs over the years in Mantua, Elk, and Washington Townships, the Washington Township Municipal Utilities Authority, Gloucester County, the Gloucester County Utilities Authority, Woodbury, Glassboro, Pitman, Clementon, and Swedesboro.
The average of his highest-earning years, on which his pension would be based, was $160,423 before the review, according to Treasury records.
But that base dropped to $56,848 after pension officials ruled some of those jobs ineligible - including those for the Washington Township Municipal Utilities Authority, Elk Township, and Glassboro - over concerns that his work there was as an independent contractor and not as a government worker.
"If he was of the mistaken belief he was entitled to pension credits to which he was not, then the system worked by finding otherwise," Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Christie, said in a statement. "Our understanding is that he accepted that determination and the matter is closed."
"We believe he is a qualified candidate for the bench and wholeheartedly support his nomination," Drewniak said.