[117 NJSuper Page 297] Esther S. Frankel, an attorney at law of New Jersey, appeals pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:10-1(c) and R. 1:10-1 from an adjudication of contempt of court entered July 6, 1971 in the Paterson Municipal Court. She
was fined $50, payment of which was stayed by the municipal judge pending the outcome of an appeal.
On July 6, 1971 one Janet Corey was charged with a violation of N.J.S.A. 2A:170-4. Upon interrogation the court was unable to elicit any information from her and thereupon assigned appellant as counsel. Appellant refused to accept the assignment and expressly waived the opportunity for a 24-hour cooling-off period to reconsider her position, as directed in In re Logan, Jr. , 52 N.J. 475 (1968). She was thereupon adjudged guilty of contempt of court and fined $50.
Succinctly stated, the issue on this de novo appeal on the transcript is "whether the refusal of an attorney to accept appointment as counsel for an indigent accused, defendant or appellant, * * * constitutes contempt of court." Annotation, "Attorney's Refusal To Accept Appointment To Defend Indigent, Or To Proceed In Such Defense, As Contempt." 36 A.L.R. 3d 1221 (1971).
On May 10, 1971, in the cases of Rodriguez v. Rosenblatt and State v. Conley , 58 N.J. 281 (1971), the Supreme Court decided that,
Indeed, whenever the particular nature of the charge is such that imprisonment in fact or other consequence of magnitude is actually threatened or is a likelihood on conviction, the indigent defendant should have counsel assigned to him unless he chooses to proceed pro se with his plea of guilty or his defense at trial. In those rare instances where there is a plea or a trial proceeds without any tender or assignment of counsel and actual imprisonment or other consequence of magnitude looms appropriate to the municipal judge despite the predications to the contrary, the defendant should be given the option of starting anew with suitable safeguards including where necessary, [ sic ] trial before a substituted municipal judge. [at 295]
On the basis of the above decision an administrative order was issued to all assignment and municipal court judges on May 12, 1971 concerning the assignment of counsel without compensation in municipal court for indigent defendants when the nature of the charge falls within the guidelines of the Rodriguez and Conley case.
In short, the order called for establishment of a list of attorneys for each municipal court, from which counsel could be assigned by the judges as necessity dictated. Until the list was prepared judges could assign counsel on an ad hoc basis. Furthermore, the order observed that no provision presently exists in the opinion, court rules, or statutes to authorize compensation for assigned counsel.
N.J.S.A. 2A:10-1 directs that,
The power of any court of this state to punish for contempt shall not be construed to extend to any case except the * * * (c) Disobedience or resistance by any court officer, or by any party, juror, witness or any person whatsoever to any lawful writ, process, judgment, order, or command of the court.
Appellant alleges that the conviction for contempt was inappropriate because the refusal to accept the assignment did not ...