This action is brought by the Attorney General on behalf of the Office of Consumer Protection to hold in contempt, for failure to obey a subpoena, defendants Grasing and DeCarlo. It raises for the first time in New Jersey the issue of the propriety of a "forthwith" subpoena.
The subpoena in this matter was issued to defendants in connection with their operation of Lady Slender Health Studios, Inc., a New Jersey corporation, engaged in providing weight reduction and physical conditioning facilities services to women.
Pursuant to an investigation concerning the sudden closing of Lady Slender's Cliffside Park studio, defendants Grasing and DeCarlo met with Charles J. Irwin, Director of Consumer
Protection, at his Newark office. At this meeting questions were posed to defendants in an attempt to determine the number of persons enrolled as members in the Cliffside Park studio. In response to the questions Grasing stated that the books containing such information were in the hands of the accountant and he was, therefore, unable to answer the questions. Director Irwin proceeded to contact the accountant and was informed that the records were not in the accountant's possession but were at Grasing's residence. A subpoena was then issued by Director Irwin to defendants requiring them to turn over certain documents. Grasing was requested to proceed directly to his residence accompanied by an investigator from the Office of Consumer Protection, and that materials specified in the subpoena be produced. Defendants thereupon contacted their attorney who informed them that the subpoena as issued was a nullity. Subsequent to the conversation between defendants and their attorney as to the efficacy of the subpoena, Director Irwin indicated to defendants that he would give until "the first of the week" to produce the records. That oral modification was declined and a contempt order to show cause ensued.
No challenge is raised regarding the authority to issue the subpoena. Under N.J.S.A. 56:8-3 and 4 the Attorney General has the authority to conduct hearings and issue subpoenas. Defendants allege, however, that the immediacy of the subpoena, as it was originally drawn, makes the subpoena a nullity.
The subpoena as issued contained the following provisions:
We command you that, laying aside all business and excuses, you personally and severally produce for inspection before the bearer of this subpoena as designee of the Attorney General of New Jersey the following:
1) Any and all contracts, membership agreements, enrollment forms or any other document or record evidencing the existence of contracts for services to be provided to members of the consuming public by Lady Slender Health Studio at 529 Anderson Avenue, Cliffside Park, New Jersey.
2) Any and all books, accounts or other similar records evidencing payments received from members of the consuming public for
services to be provided by Lady Slender Health Studio at 529 Anderson Avenue, ...