A state appeals court today overturned the official misconduct and insurance fraud convictions of former Hackensack Police Chief Ken Zisa on charges of whisking his then-girlfriend from a DWI crash scene and filing a bogus insurance claim afterward.
The Appellate Division judges said Bergen County prosecutors won the conviction with tainted evidence, as well as “improper and prejudicial” statements about his family’s political connections and Zisa’s attorney that were “riddled with impropriety,” and “astonishingly improper,” denying him a fair trial.
Zisa has remained free on bail so he could fight the 2012 conviction.
CLICK HERE FOR: Zisa opinion (NJ Appellate Division)
Defense attorney Paul Bergman said his client “looks forward to fully vindicating the position he took five years ago — namely, that he committed no wrongdoing in the performance of his official duties as Hackensack Police Chief, a position which, until these baseless charges, he held with high esteem, and fulfilled with great competency and integrity.
“While no court decision can give him back the last five years of his life, he looks forward to resuming his life, career and hard-earned good reputation,” Bergman said.
Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli, in turn, told CLIFFVIEW PILOT: “We will review our appellate options within the next week and if no appeal is filed we are prepared to re try the case.”
Both Zisa and Kathleen Tiernan were found guilty in June 2012 following a seven-week trial of lying on a claim after she drove Zisa’s SUV into a utility pole on Moore Street in Hackensack.
The couple collected $11,000 in damages after claiming that Tiernan swerved to avoid an animal in the road when the crash occurred, authorities said.
Tiernan was accepted for Pre-Trial Intervention.
Jurors acquitted Zisa of charges of conspiracy and witness tampering. A local judge later vacated his conviction on three other official misconduct charges for lack of evidence.
Molinelli appealed the judge’s dismissal, which was upheld by the Appellate Division today.
At the same time, the appeals judges ruled that the local judge incorrectly denied a defense acquittal bid on the insurance fraud charge.
The 38-page appeals court decision sends the case back to Bergen County for possible re-trial on a remaining official misconduct charge, although Zisa could argue that constitutes double jeopardy.