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In re Block

Decided: December 18, 1967.

IN THE MATTER OF WILLIAM BLOCK, JOSEPH CASELLA, JAMES GILL, JAMES HIGHBERGER, ROBERT HUGHES, AGNES MORAVEK, KATHY MCGREGOR, RAYMOND PETERSON, CHARLES RICHARDS, STEVE VAGRIN, WILLIAM WEINBRENNER, AND WOODBRIDGE TOWNSHIP FEDERATION OF TEACHERS, LOCAL NO. 822, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS, A.F.L.-C.I.O., AN UNINCORPORATED ASSOCIATION, CHARGED WITH CONTEMPT OF COURT


For affirmance -- Chief Justice Weintraub and Justices Jacobs, Francis, Proctor, Goldmann, Schettino and Haneman. For reversal -- None.

Per Curiam

Defendants were convicted in summary proceedings for contempt of court arising out of violations of a restraining order issued to end a strike by school teachers in Woodbridge, New Jersey. The Woodbridge Township Federation of Teachers, Local No. 822, American Federation of Teachers, A.F.L.-C.I.O., was fined $1,000; defendant Casella was fined $1,000 and sentenced to serve six months in jail, the last three months being suspended, subject to probation for two years; defendant Richards was fined $1,000 and sentenced to a term of three months, the last two months being suspended, subject to probation for one year; and the remaining individuals were each fined $500 and sentenced to a term of one month, which jail sentence was suspended, subject to probation for a year. We certified the appeals before argument in the Appellate Division.

In October 1966 the defendant Local No. 822, representing slightly more than half of the 821 teachers of Woodbridge, presented to the Board of Education a list of demands embodied in a document called Project Mews. By letter to the Board dated January 10 signed by its president,

defendant Richards, the Local advised that its Executive Council had adopted the following resolution the day before and had directed its release to all teachers, members of the Board, and news media:

"Whereas, Unless the priority proposals of Project Mews and a revised salary guide of $6,000 to $12,000 be met by the Board of Education; therefore,

Resolved, the Executive Council of the Woodbridge Township Federation of Teachers will recommend that immediate steps be taken to affect a work stoppage in the Woodbridge Township Schools."

On January 15, a meeting of about 400 teachers was held. Defendant Casella, a representative of the national union, who, according to the testimony, is called when help is needed, attended the meeting. Apparently no strike vote was taken, but the members voted to meet at 7:00 A.M. the next day to discuss what to do. The record does not reveal what happened at that meeting on January 16, but some 400 teachers failed to report for work and picket lines were established. The strike being illegal, a restraining order was sought and obtained that day. At a meeting of the teachers that evening, the restraining order was read to the assemblage and copies were served on all defendants except Gill, who was served at 7:00 A.M. the next day. At that meeting Casella and Richards asked the Board to meet to discuss the demands, and when the Board president replied that the Board would meet if the teachers returned to the classrooms, Casella informed the Board and all present that the teachers "were operating from a position of strength" and "they would stay out, out on strike or what have you, until they had a specific agreement with the Board." Casella then announced a meeting would be held at 7:00 A.M. the next morning (January 17) and left, followed by a substantial number of the teachers.

The teachers met at 7:00 A.M. on the 17th with Richards presiding and Casella present. There was no further picketing,

but 420 teachers did not report for duty. At about 1:50 P.M. on the 17th Richards wired the Board that "if you desire to reopen the Woodbridge schools, call our office 636-2799." The teachers met again at 7:00 A.M. on the 18th, and more than 400 teachers stayed away from the schools. Later that day the order to show cause issued in these contempt proceedings.

Defendants say the restraining order was too vague to support these charges. The order, though comprehensively phrased to avoid verbal nuances, was plain in its restraints, and surely so with respect to the conduct upon which the convictions rest. None of the defendants could have doubted that the restraining order enjoined what he or she did. We have sketched the role of Richards, including the telegram which stated in effect that the stoppage would continue, despite the restraining order, unless the Board communicated with him. Casella was particularly vocal in his defiance of the restraining order. We noted above his categorical statement that the restraining order would be ignored, made to the assembled teachers on the evening of the 16th after the order was read and served. Earlier that day, upon being told by a member of the press that an injunction was being sought, Casella replied that "We don't know what injunctions are about. They are only an antilabor tactic. They have never settled the teachers' dispute." Again, when told by a reporter that the court was considering the issuance of the contempt order to show cause, Casella told the reporter that "citations were a bunch of nonsense," that he did not believe anyone would be arrested but "the teachers were prepared to go to Devil's Island and spend the rest of their lives there." These statements were ...


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