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In re Molnar

Decided: December 9, 1964.

IN THE MATTER OF THE CRIMINAL CONTEMPT CHARGED AGAINST CHARLES J. MOLNAR


Gaulkin, Foley and Collester. The opinion of the court was delivered by Foley, J.A.D.

Foley

This is an appeal from a summary conviction of criminal contempt entered in the Law Division against Charles J. Molnar, David T. Miller, Sr., John P. Hughes, David Nicola, Jr., Maynard B. Winston and John Evanko, Jr., all of whom formerly were members of the Township Committee of Woodbridge. Only Molnar perfected the appeal, the other five having abandoned the proceeding.

The six named individuals constituted the Republican Party majority of the 11-man township committee. The other four committeemen and the mayor (also a committeeman) were members of the Democratic Party. As the result of a general election held in November 1961 the majority of the newly elected township committee which was to take office on January 1, 1962 were members of the Democratic Party.

On December 9, 1961, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 33:1-12.14 and in accordance with the 1960 census, the township committee adopted an ordinance which authorized the township to issue four additional plenary retail distribution liquor licenses. Five Republican Party members of the committee voted in favor of its adoption, three Democratic members voted against it. Molnar, a holder of a liquor license in Woodbridge, abstained from voting. Immediately thereafter an action in lieu of prerogative writs was brought against the mayor, the township committee and the township clerk. It was alleged that the ordinance was adopted in bad faith, without regard to the public convenience or need, and was a last minute effort to dispense party patronage before the Democrats would assume control of the township committee on January 1, 1962. Plaintiffs sought a judgment declaring the ordinance void and restraining the township committee from issuing licenses thereunder.

Five of the plaintiffs, in a separate count of the complaint, alleged that some were in the process of perfecting applications for the issuance to them of new licenses at the time the ordinance was adopted, and others intended to initiate such applications. They charged that the township committee intended to hold a hearing on December 26, 1961 to consider the issuance of licenses to four other applicants who had already perfected their applications. These plaintiffs did not attack the validity of the ordinance but sought a judgment enjoining the issuance of new licenses until their respective applications could be investigated and considered.

A verified complaint in the in lieu action was presented to Superior Court Judge Waesche on December 26, 1961, who issued an ex parte order returnable December 29, 1961, requiring defendant township committee to show cause why the relief sought in the complaint should not be granted. The order contained a provision for an interim restraint from holding a public meeting on December 26, 1961, from holding any public meeting until such time as the late filing applicants might properly be considered and investigated, and from

issuing any licenses pursuant to the ordinance until this could be done. When the order to show cause was served, the township committee meeting scheduled for December 26, 1961 was adjourned.

On December 29, 1961 the attorneys for the parties appeared before Judge Waesche on the return of the order to show cause. Briefs were submitted and arguments were heard. The township took the position that irreparable damage would not be suffered by plaintiffs if the restraint was dissolved, and further, that the restraint from holding a meeting for any purpose would prevent the township from transacting necessary business which was unrelated to the issuance of liquor licenses. At the conclusion of the arguments the judge, in open court, announced his intention of continuing the interim restraint. However, he termed it too broad and modified it to apply only to the hearing of applications for liquor licenses, thus permitting the township committee to transact other business. For reasons which are unimportant here, the attorneys were unable to agree on the form of an order continuing and modifying the restraint in accordance with the court's oral deliverance.

On the evening of December 29, 1961 the meeting adjourned from December 26 was held. It was attended by the six Republican committeemen above named and by four Democratic committeemen. Committeeman Evanko presided. Prior to the transaction of any business the township attorney made known to the assembled group Judge Waesche's oral determination and order. He stated that he did not know whether the order, being oral, had binding effect on the committee or whether its violation would amount to a contempt of court. He said, also, that the violation of an oral order might be deemed to be contempt, and suggested to the committee that it should decide in its "own best judgment" whether it should issue liquor licenses that night. At the instance of Evanko, the township clerk then commenced the reading of the resolutions granting the four liquor licenses. At this point the four Democratic members of the committee arose and left the

meeting room with the statement that they did not wish to be parties to a meeting which might possibly be ...


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