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Connelly v. Housing Authority

Decided: October 27, 1960.

JOSEPH E. CONNELLY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
HOUSING AUTHORITY OF THE CITY OF JERSEY CITY, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Conford, Foley and Halpern. The opinion of the court was delivered by Halpern, J.c.c. (temporarily assigned).

Halpern

This appeal challenges a decision of the Superior Court, Law Division, Hudson County, which reinstated plaintiff as executive director, secretary and treasurer of the defendant housing authority upon a finding that charges of alleged misconduct were insufficient to support his dismissal. The issues are whether the trial court possessed the power to reinstate plaintiff after ruling that some of the charges had been proven and that one involved an act of "serious insubordination," and, if so, whether such power was properly exercised.

Plaintiff is a Navy veteran of World War II, entitled to job protection under the Veterans' Tenure Act, R.S. 38:16-1, as amended by L. 1942, c. 83, which provides that no honorably discharged war veteran holding a salaried state, county or municipal position of indeterminate term "* * * shall be removed from such employment, position or office, except for good cause shown after a fair and impartial hearing, but such person shall hold his employment, position or office during good behavior, and shall not be removed for political reasons. * * *"

Plaintiff was suspended by the authority on May 22, 1959, without the filing of any charges or a hearing. He commenced this suit attacking the suspension and asserting his status as a veteran. Thereafter, the authority filed five specific charges against him, conducted a hearing, and discharged him permanently on July 9, 1959. He then supplemented his original complaint to allege that the evidence adduced at the hearing failed to establish the validity of the charges, and that they were insufficient to support the penalty imposed.

The charges were essentially that:

(1) on or about December 1, 1958, he failed to keep an appointment with certain representatives from the New York office of the Public Housing Administration and the chairman of the authority;

(2) when asked at the authority meeting of December 4, 1958 to explain the above absence, he refused to do so and expressed contempt for the Public Housing Administration staff;

(3) at the same December 4, 1958 meeting he criticized commissioners of the authority for allegedly interfering with his conduct of the office by overruling his decisions on request of subordinates;

(4) he failed to attend the authority's annual meeting on May 18, 1959 and gave no excuse therefor; and

(5) he took three days annual leave, May 19 through 21, 1959, without prior approval of or notice to the authority.

The trial court, reviewing a transcript of the hearing, found that charges 1, 4 and 5 were proven or admitted, but that the acts involved were trivial and excusable in nature. No useful purpose will be served by detailing the uncontradicted explanations offered by plaintiff except to comment that there is a serious question whether charges 1 and 5 involved any acts of misconduct at all. It is sufficient for the purposes of this decision to adopt the trial court's description of these acts.

We agree with the trial court that the criticism of the commissioners alleged in charge 3 was not improper conduct in light of the facts adduced with respect thereto. See Rinaldi v. Mongiello , 7 N.J. Super. 410 (Law Div. 1949), ...


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