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Egan v. Kelly

Decided: June 6, 1951.


Proceeding in lieu of prerogative writ and for declaratory judgment.

Colie, J.s.c.


[14 NJSuper Page 104] In this action the plaintiffs seek to have William J. Egan declared the elected chairman of the Essex

County Democratic County Committee and to have William H. Kelly restrained from exercising the prerogatives of chairman. They also ask a declaratory judgment as to the rights and status of William J. Egan and William H. Kelly.

William H. Kelly was elected chairman of the county committee in April, 1950, and thereafter exercised the privileges and performed the duties of the office. In April, 1951, a primary election was held and in accordance with the provision of the statute, R.S. 19:5-3, he gave notice of the annual meeting of the county committee for April 24, 1951, at Essex House, Newark, N.J. Notice was sent to each member-elect by the outgoing chairman of the county committee. The section of the statute above mentioned provides: "* * * at which annual meeting the members of such committee shall elect some suitable person as chairman, to hold office for one year, or until his successor is elected."

The meeting was held in the Elizabethan Room of Essex House and there was present a numerous gathering, estimates varying from 400 to 900. Mr. Kelly, in his capacity of county chairman, called the meeting to order and then stated that he was appointing Mr. James J. McMahon as temporary chairman. The reason for having a temporary chairman was because a contest for the chairmanship was in the offing and Mr. Kelly was a contestant. Immediately after the appointment of Mr. McMahon as temporary chairman, disorder broke out. There was turmoil, noise, confusion and generally unseemly conduct which lasted for more than an hour. At an early stage of the disorder, a motion was made and seconded that a chairman be elected. The chairman did not put the motion to a vote. Thereafter a member of the county committee appealed the ruling of the chairman in appointing a temporary chairman but Mr. Kelly again refused to put the question to the meeting. Thereafter, bedlam reigned. Whenever the chairman attempted to turn over the meeting to Mr. McMahon, disturbance broke out. The most compelling evidence of the disorder was in the form of photographs taken by a news photographer. The pictures show

that there was a shouting mob milling about the dais and one photograph shows what clearly was a physical scuffle and struggle for possession of the microphone at the chairman's dais. The plaintiff, Mr. Egan, was prominent in at least two of the pictures. He testified that he led what had been described by other witnesses as "disorder." Thus conditions continued for more than an hour, the chairman endeavoring to restore order so that his appointee might preside, the opposition continuing the demonstration whenever Mr. McMahon undertook to act as temporary chairman. There were periods of relative quiet during which Mr. Kelly, Mr. Egan and others spoke to the assembly. At the end of that period Mr. Kelly announced that he was leaving the meeting and going to a room on the floor below and that all those who were so minded might follow him. There was some dispute as to whether his announcement was that the meeting would "adjourn" to another room.

Upon the retirement of Mr. Kelly and those who followed to the floor below there was held a "continuation" of the meeting which had originally convened in the Elizabethan Room. A temporary chairman took over, tellers of election were designated and a vote was held which resulted, according to Mr. Kelly's contention, in his re-election as chairman of the county committee. There were at this meeting some 648 votes allegedly cast for Mr. Kelly. Parenthetically, the overwhelming majority of the 648 votes were from the suburban areas.

Meantime, those who remained in the Elizabethan Room were not passive. Mr. Edward Gilhooly, a county committeeman from South Orange, was designated to preside. A Mr. Stanton was "elected" temporary chairman. Nominations for county chairman were opened, William J. Egan was nominated and seconded. A motion to close the nominations was offered, seconded and passed and the temporary chairman announced that William J. Egan had been elected county chairman.

The above is a scanty outline of what transpired during the evening but is sufficient to indicate the tenor of the gathering.

The Essex County Democratic Committee either has no constitution or by-laws or their whereabouts are unknown. The statute throws no light on how the proceedings shall be conducted. In the absence of any guide from statute, constitution or by-laws, the commonly recognized rules of parliamentary procedure govern. Fletcher, Cyc. ...

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