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Thursday, July 18, 2024


Plea Negotiations in Official Misconduct Case Against County Investigator at ‘Impasse’

Deputy Attorneys General Brian Uzdavinis
Shay Roddy

Deputy Attorneys General Brian Uzdavinis, standing, and Jessica Saxon, seated, both appeared on behalf of the state May 19 in the official misconduct case against Harkins. 

By Shay Roddy

COURT HOUSE – A criminal case brought against a county investigator, who allegedly launched an unauthorized investigation into a parking lot fender bender involving his mother-in-law, was relisted for July after a brief hearing in Cape May County Superior Court May 19. 

Robert Harkins, a now-suspended Prosecutor’s Office detective sergeant, allegedly took it upon himself to investigate the 2019 hit-and-run accident when he was unsatisfied with the job a Middle Township police officer, who responded to the scene, had done. 

Harkins allegedly subpoenaed the drug store the accident occurred outside of for their closed-circuit security footage, had a Prosecutor’s Office colleague run the plate Harkins got from the video, and, upon learning the identity of the registered owner of the vehicle, went to the suspect’s house to perform surveillance. 

Harkins allegedly turned in a report, including the evidence he collected, to the police, but instead of going after the driver, they went to his bosses at the Prosecutor’s Office to report the unauthorized investigation. 

Harkins was charged by the Attorney General’s Office with second-degree official misconduct, third-degree tampering with public records or information, and fourth-degree falsifying or tampering with records. A state grand jury indicted him in January 2022. 

The state is offering Harkins to plead guilty to the fourth-degree falsifying or tampering with records count in exchange for a recommended sentence of non-custodial probation. The deal would also include a consent order to a lifetime ban on public office. 

If the motion to dismiss is not withdrawn and is litigated, Brian Uzdavinis, the deputy attorney general arguing the case for the state, said the offer would escalate to a three-year flat state prison term. If the matter is listed for trial, Uzdavinis said he has been instructed by his office that the offer would again escalate to a five-year state prison term. 

“Escalation doesn’t always mean negotiation,” remarked Judge Bernard E. DeLury Jr. 

Meghan Hoerner, Harkins’ defense lawyer, said the defense completed a “very thorough investigation,” but negotiations are at an “impasse,” the same place they were when Harkins last appeared in court in October 2022.   

After addressing the case briefly on the record, following a conference in the judge’s chambers, Hoerner requested one more adjournment, to which the state did not object. 

Hoerner previously told the Herald she felt the matter should have been handled administratively, not in criminal court. She could not be reached following the hearing May 19. 

Other sources close to Harkins have questioned how the case against the investigator may be related to a civil suit brought in federal court by two other Prosecutor’s Office employees. Harkins had been supportive of the two women who are now suing their employer for discrimination. 

DeLury relisted the pretrial conference in Harkins’ criminal matter for July 21.  

To reach the reporter, Shay Roddy, email or call 609886-8600, ext. 142. 

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