Matthews, Lora and Morgan.
Plaintiff William F. Hyland, Attorney General of New Jersey, on November 19, 1974 filed a complaint in lieu of prerogative writ seeking the removal of defendant Alex Smollok from his offices of business manager of the Passaic County Vocational School and secretary to the Board of Education of the Passaic County Vocational School, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:81-17.2a et seq.
On March 7, 1975, during oral argument on plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, the trial judge ordered that defendant be permitted to depose plaintiff Attorney General, Matthew P. Boylan, the Director of the Division of Criminal Justice, and William B. Palleria, the Deputy Attorney General who conducted the state grand jury investigation, in furtherance of defendant's defense that the statute was being selectively enforced against him and to determine if the decisions to subpoena defendant to testify before the state grand jury and to remove him from public office were made in bad faith. A motion for leave to appeal from this order as it applied to Hyland and Boylan was filed with this court. Thereafter, plaintiff's motion for summary judgment was denied by order entered April 23, 1975 in accordance with the court's written opinion of March 17, 1975, following which plaintiff moved for leave to appeal said denial of summary judgment. On April 22, 1975 leave to appeal from both interlocutory orders was granted and the appeals were consolidated.
The record reveals that pursuant to an ongoing investigation of alleged misuse of school funds and employees' services, and alleged kickbacks and bribes in connection with school contracts, defendant was subpoenaed to testify before a state grand jury on September 5, 1974. The Deputy Attorney General in charge, William Palleria, advised defendant of the nature of the investigation and specific areas of inquiry, including defendant's duty to testify under the
statute, the statutory grant of immunity, and the possibility of removal from office.
On the advice of counsel defendant read a statement that he was present by virtue of coercion; that he had been indicted daily by the press, despite the fact that he had maintained his innocence; that there had been leaks to the press of what had transpired before the state grand jury; that he had been told the grand jury was going to indict him despite anything he might have to say, and that accordingly, upon the advice of his attorney, he would not answer any questions.
On two subsequent appearances before the grand jury, September 12 and October 17, 1974, defendant was informed of his rights and obligations under the statute but he again refused to answer any questions regarding the alleged misuse of school funds and employees' services and the alleged receipt of bribes and kickbacks in connection with school contracts, despite an order by the assignment judge of Mercer County that he do so.
Defendant's counsel submitted a personal affidavit in opposition to plaintiff's motion for summary judgment in which he stated that defendant was subpoenaed to the state grand jury after many witnesses had been called, after a long series of closed and public hearings, after the State Commission of Investigation had already submitted findings publicly as to defendant's alleged involvement in certain illegal activities, and after the matter had been forwarded to the Attorney General for prosecution. Counsel further stated in his affidavit that a representative of the Attorney General had informed him that Smollok was going to be indicted for the alleged wrongdoing; that Smollok was called before the state grand jury so that the statutory provisions for removal from office could be utilized against him. The affidavit concluded with a statement that Smollok, through counsel, attempted to exercise certain constitutional rights and to have hearings before a Superior Court judge in Trenton, but at Smollok's last appearance before
the grand jury it was determined that he would, in fact, testify; however, the Deputy Attorney General in charge at the time informed Smollok and affiant that he was not going to then call him to the grand jury room and that they could leave.
Mindful of the liberal application given to discovery and relying particularly on R. 4:15-1, the trial judge denied plaintiff's application for a protective order preventing defendant from deposing the Attorney General and the Director of the Division of Criminal Justice. However, it is our view the Attorney General and Director of the Division of Criminal Justice, as well as other high-level government officials, should not be deposed, absent a showing of first-hand knowledge or direct involvement in the events giving rise to an action, or absent a showing that such deposition is essential to prevent injustice. Wirtz v. Local 30, International Union of Operating Engineers , 34 F.R.D. 13 (S.D.N.Y. 1963); cf. Virgo Corporation v. Paiewonsky , 39 F.R.D. 9 (D.C. Virgin Islands, 1966).
Not only has defendant failed to meet this threshold burden, but Hyland and Boylan submitted affidavits below denying any active participation or first-hand knowledge in this matter. Clearly, information concerning previous cases brought under the Removal Act which defendant contends is relevant to his defense of selective enforcement, may be obtained from other representatives of the Attorney General's Office. The rationale of the trial judge that since Hyland is the plaintiff he is subject to ...