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Harrison v. State Board of Education

Decided: July 31, 1946.

EUNICE S. HARRISON, PROSECUTRIX,
v.
STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE VOCATIONAL SCHOOLS OF MIDDLESEX COUNTY, AND WILLIAM J. MURRAY, DIRECTOR, DEFENDANTS



On certiorari.

For the prosecutrix, Harry V. Osborne.

For the defendants, William F. McCloskey (David T. Wilentz, of counsel).

Before Justices Donges, Heher and Colie.

Heher

The opinion of the court was delivered by

HEHER, J. Prosecutrix complains of her dismissal as principal of the Girls Vocational School at Woodbridge. After a hearing upon written charges of misconduct, the defendant Board of Education of Vocational Schools of Middlesex County found her "guilty of acts of insubordination, of conduct unbecoming a principal and a teacher and of exceeding her authority as principal" of the named school.

The charges, thirty-four in number, fall into three general categories, viz.: insubordination; conduct unbecoming a principal; and conduct in excess of authority.

The State Commissioner of Education reversed the judgment. He found that "some" of the charges "are so trivial" as not to warrant the order of dismissal, even though wellfounded in fact; that "other charges" are not sustained by the evidence, "and still other charges are not supported by sufficient evidence," and there was not "a rational and reasonable basis for appellant's dismissal." The State Board of Education took a different view. It determined that, while "some of the charges are trivial and by themselves of little moment," there was a series of acts of insubordination and

conduct "subversive of the discipline and morale of the school system" which constituted a sufficient basis for the judgment of dismissal.

Prosecutrix is removable from her position only for good and sufficient cause, and after a hearing upon written charges. She has the tenure of office prescribed by R.S. 18:13-16, et seq. This by virtue of chapter 150 of the Laws of 1941. Pamph. L., p. 494; N.J.S.A. 18:15-58.1.

Citing Martin v. Smith, 100 N.J.L. 50, the State Board seems to have considered the inquiry to be whether the finding of guilt has substantial support in the evidence. Such was the rule followed in Redcay v. State Board of Education, 130 N.J.L. 369; affirmed, 131 Id. 326. But prosecutrix held what would seem to be a county position; and under R.S. 2:81-8, this court is under a duty to weigh the evidence, and make its own independent determination of the facts, where certiorari issues to review the dismissal "of a person holding an office or position, state, county or municipal, from which he is removable only for cause and after trial, * * *." Of course, where, as here, the factual review is upon the record, we must perforce consider the distinct advantage had by the trial body of personal observation of the parties and the witnesses.

No good purpose will be served by an analysis of the evidence. It suffices to say that the proofs demonstrate a series of insubordinate acts and excesses of authority by prosecutrix, even after she had been cautioned by the local board that such conduct would not be countenanced. She flouted the authority of the director of the county vocational schools. She is guilty of acts which were manifestly designed to interfere with his administration, and that of the assistant director. And there was interference with administration wholly beyond her sphere of instruction. It is not a question merely of bona fide criticism of and disagreement with the policies and acts of her superiors, but rather of disobedience and refusal to observe the orders and directions of duly constituted ...


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