Home>Campaigns>Judge validates three-year residency requirement for sheriff, ending Oswald campaign

Former Paterson Police Chief Troy Oswald. (Photo: Troy Oswald).

Judge validates three-year residency requirement for sheriff, ending Oswald campaign

GOP must now mount write-in campaign to nominate a candidate against Berdnik

By David Wildstein, April 21 2022 10:54 pm

U.S. District Court Judge Madeline Cox Arleo has upheld a state law that requires candidates for sheriff to resident in their county for three years, leaving Passaic County Republicans without a candidate.

The decision ends the campaign of former Paterson Police Chief Troy Oswald, who moved to Clifton in October 2021 after spending 20 years living in Morris and Sussex counties.  Oswald is ineligible to run or to serve.

“This Court finds that a three-year durational residency requirement is narrowly tailored to further New Jersey’s significant interest in ensuring that sheriff candidates have a substantial familiarity with the relevant county and its electorate,” Arleo said in her decision.  “Given the sheriff’s broad powers, three years is sufficiently tailored to permit a new resident candidate to become familiar with the people and issues of the county and for the people to become familiar with a candidate seeking a supervisory, elected law enforcement role.”

Arleo noted that the three-year residency requirement – a law that caught many political insiders  by surprise – sates back to 1788.

She said that finding the law to be unconstitutional, as Oswald sought, would take “something more than the disappointment of one frustrated candidate is needed to erase a . . . provision that goes back to 1784 and was never challenged until now.”

“In applying the intermediate scrutiny test, the three-year durational residency requirement for county sheriff is tailored to serve significant and legitimate interests, rendering it facially constitutional,” Arleo said.  “There is a heightened interest in ensuring that sheriffs, in their law enforcement supervisory roles, have firm roots in the counties they serve and a three-year residency requirement is tailored to further that interest.”

In her ruling, Arleo said that there was no compelling argument that Oswald, who grew up in Little Falls, was really a Passaic County resident.  She pointed to a case in Atlantic City where a city council candidate moved thirteen blocks away from his ward.

The judge referenced a state court decision in that case that stated, “it seems almost absurd to say that someone who lives his whole life in a city doesn’t know enough about the problems of his neighbors, simply because they live on the other side of an invisible line that runs down the middle of their street.”

“Oswald is no lifelong resident of Passaic County,” Arleo said. “To find that Oswald’s work history could substitute for residency would go beyond the scope of this Court’s power.”

Republicans will need to mount a write-in campaign to pick a new sheriff candidate to take on four-term Democratic incumbent Richard Berdnik.

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