On Jan. 18, Gov. Phil Murphy signed bill A-4771 into law which will serve to
expand the offenses that are eligible for expungement upon an individual’s successful discharge from drug court.
Middletown resident Nikki Tierney, 49, who spearheaded the initiative that saw her effort go from legislation to law, has been one of those “struggling to get a second chance” after, as she said, “falling from grace” following a fight with addiction to opioids and legal battles that changed the course of her life.
In years past, Tierney was known as a standout athlete at Mater Dei High School (now Mater Dei Prep), in Middletown. She has been fighting a battle to overcome difficult obstacles in much the same way she pursued sports and academics.
“I drew on many of the lessons I learned from playing basketball and soccer to help me recover,” said Tierney. “I knew I had to focus on the task at hand, have tenacity and laser focus.
“However, unlike sports and academics, my fate was ultimately in someone else’s hand. So what I did was decide to take every action I could to increase the likelihood they would be willing to do what I needed to have done,” she said.
Tierney sent emails, made phone calls, circulated petitions. She left no stone unturned in her pursuit for a second chance.
“I asked for help, I begged, I pleaded, I did research,” she said. “In games there were always bad calls by referees or some variable beyond my control, but I left no room for error.
“I made sure I executed and played with all my heart, leaving everything on the field or court. That is what I did in advocating for this bill.
“I made sure everything within my control was executed and acted on. And as for the rest, I just stayed positive, tried to have faith and prayed that regardless of the outcome, I would stay the course,” she said.
Tierney said she remained focused by remembering her purpose.
“My children and family suffered more than I as a result of the collateral consequences stemming from the ‘felon’ label I brought upon myself,” she said.
“This was never about my personal ego, but about a pointless system that limits a person’s ability to attain their highest and best use permanently because of an event that occurred in the past when they were not well, and has no relevance to their proclivity toward repeating that behavior today.
“It was always about treating people who have substance use disorders and mental disorders, and allowing them to persevere with dignity and humanity,” she said.
Asked to sum up her feelings now that Murphy has signed the bill into law, Tierney said, “Grateful. I think the message of hope and redemption is so important.”
For Tierney, there will be one final hurdle; her application seeking expungement of her record must go before the prosecutor’s office where the decision will be made to either challenge her request or grant her an expungement.