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In re Bridge

Decided: September 12, 1972.

IN THE MATTER OF, PETER BRIDGE, CHARGED WITH CONTEMPT OF COURT


Collester, Carton and Allcorn. The opinion of the court was delivered by Collester, P.J.A.D.

Collester

This is an appeal by Peter Bridge from an order of the Superior Court, Law Division, holding him in contempt for refusing to answer five questions before the Essex County grand jury and confining him to the county jail until he purged himself by answering the questions posed. The trial judge stayed the order pending an appeal and we granted the prosecutor's motion to accelerate the appeal for early argument.

On May 2, 1972 the Newark Evening News published an article under Peter Bridge's by-line concerning an alleged offer of a bribe to Pearl Beatty, a member of the Newark Housing Authority. The article contained the following statements:

Mrs. Pearl Beatty, a commissioner of the Newark Housing Authority, said yesterday an unknown man offered to pay her $10,000 to influence her vote for the appointment of an executive director of the authority.

Mrs. Beatty said also that at least two other commissioners had been harassed and threatened in efforts to control their votes.

Mrs. Beatty said, "a man walked into my office and offered me $10,000 if I would vote for 'their' choice for executive director."

The Essex County grand jury commenced an investigation of the alleged bribe attempt and on May 19, 1972 subpoenaed Bridge to appear before it. Bridge moved to quash the subpoena. Assignment Judge Giuliano denied the motion and ordered Bridge to appear before the grand jury. He rejected Bridge's contention that compelling him to testify would violate the guarantee of freedom of the press contained in the First Amendment. Judge Giuliano held that Bridge had waived the privilege afforded him by N.J.S.A. 2A:84A-21 (Evidence Rule 27) under the provisions of N.J.S.A. 2A:84A-29 (Evidence Rule 37).

Bridge moved for leave to appeal from the order. This court granted leave and, following oral argument, affirmed the order denying the motion to quash and directing Bridge to appear before the grand jury. No appeal or petition for certification of the appeal was thereafter filed with the Supreme Court.

On June 8, 1972, following this court's decision, Bridge appeared before the grand jury. When he refused to answer certain questions he was brought before Judge Giuliano who, following a hearing, directed Bridge to answer. On June 14 Bridge again returned before the grand jury and refused to answer certain questions. Judge Giuliano ordered him to answer the questions, including the five questions which were the basis for the subsequent contempt action.*fn1 When Bridge

subsequently refused to answer the five questions before the grand jury, Judge Giuliano ordered Bridge to show cause why he should not be adjudged in contempt. The order was made returnable before Judge Meanor. Following a hearing, Judge Meanor held that Bridge had neither a constitutional privilege nor a statutory privilege to refuse to answer the questions. The judge entered an order adjudging Bridge to be in contempt of court and directed that he be confined to the county jail until he answered the five questions or until the grand jury was discharged. This appeal followed.

We first note that the two principal issues in this appeal, namely, (1) whether appellant waived his newspaperman's privilege accorded by Evidence Rule 27 (N.J.S.A. 2A:84A-21), and (2) whether the First Amendment grants him the privilege of refusing to testify before a grand jury, were raised on his prior appeal from the denial of the motion to quash the subpoena. In that appeal we held that appellant waived his privilege under Evidence Rule 27 by disclosing in the news article the source of his information and that compelling his appearance before the grand jury did not amount to an abridgment of his rights under the First Amendment. The issues having been decided on the merits in that appeal, the decision became the law of the case. ...


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