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State v. Sax

Decided: February 4, 1976.

THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
RICHARD SAX, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Fritz, Seidman and Milmed.

Per Curiam

Defendant appeals from an adjudication of contempt in an action properly prosecuted in accordance with R. 1:10-1. The sole ground asserted in this appeal is that what he did did not "rise" to the level of "contempt conduct."

The facts are not at all disputed. Substantially, as defendant recounts them in his brief, they are as follows: On March 11, 1974 defendant received a parking ticket in the Town of Westfield. Shortly thereafter he apparently contacted the clerk of the municipal court and inquired about the amount of the fine and the procedure to be followed in the event that he chose to contest the validity of the summons. On March 14, 1974 the court clerk wrote to appellant a letter characterized by his counsel as "very respectful," indicating the amount of the fine and the date of the court appearance in the event defendant wished to contest the matter. She added, "if this date [the original trial date] is inconvenient for you, please contact the Court at 232-4666, and a new date will be arranged."

Defendant responded by remitting $2, accompanied by the following communication:

Dear Sir or Madam:

I put three dimes in for only two hours parking. Your coercive methods of getting money are rather ugly, as I have no time to haggle with you bureaucrats. Thank you and you.

R. Sax

The judge of the municipal court certified the language of the letter, as required by R. 1:10-1, heard defendant and his counsel, and adjudged defendant guilty of contempt. He expressly restrained himself from the imposition of a jail sentence but imposed a $100 fine for contempt of court. When he was reminded that defendant had in fact been charged with two contempts,*fn1 he replied, "Well, if you want to do it that way * * * it'll be $50 for each."

Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:10-3 defendant sought review in the County Court which heard the matter upon the law and the facts as the statute requires. The County Court judge affirmed the adjudication of contempt but added, "I don't think the fine should be $100 but it should be reduced to $50."

We believe defendant's conduct constituted a contempt and we affirm the adjudication below.

While defendant, an educated man who teaches in high school, sought below to excuse his abusive comment and gutter language by blaming it on frustration, neither there nor here was there an effort to defend it. Defendant below personally characterized it as "inappropriate." Rather, defendant seeks to avoid the charge of contempt by pointing out that offending the sensibilities of a person (such as the clerk who was a woman, or the judge of the court, a man), does not constitute a contempt. He insists that there must be a disruption or an obstruction of justice.

We disagree unless it is conceded that published disrespect aimed directly at the administration of justice by the judicial branch in and of itself constitutes a disruption. With appropriate ...


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