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Passaic County Probation Officers'' Association v. County of Passaic

Decided: May 16, 1977.


For affirmance as modified -- Chief Justice Hughes and Justices Mountain, Sullivan, Pashman, Clifford and Schreiber. For reversal -- Judge Conford. The opinion of the court was delivered by Mountain, J. Conford, P.J.A.D., Temporarily Assigned, dissenting.


[73 NJ Page 249] On December 16, 1974, the Chief Probation Officer of Passaic County issued a directive, to take effect January 6, 1975, specifying that the working hours of probation officers in the employ of the county would thereafter extend from 9:00 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. Their schedule had theretofore required attendance only from 9:00 A.M. until 4:00 P.M. This change in working hours was responsive to action of this Court similarly extending the period of time during which trial judges would routinely hold court. The directive followed the passage of a resolution by the County Court Judges of Passaic County, adopted

October 30, 1974, which ordered that the daily work span be so enlarged.*fn1

At all relevant times the Passaic County Probation Officers' Association, plaintiff in this action, was acknowledged to be the duly chosen and accredited representative of the probation officers employed by the County of Passaic. Admittedly the resolution was adopted and the directive issued without prior consultation or discussion with the Association. The latter instituted this action seeking to enjoin the enforcement of the directive on the ground that it was in violation of N.J.S.A. 34:13A-5.3*fn2 and to compel the Judges of the County Court of Passaic County forthwith to negotiate in good faith with the plaintiff as to the proposed modification of probation officers' hours of work. An order to show cause issued but temporary restraints were denied. Following a hearing on the return day of the order to show cause, Judge Gelman filed a written opinion, 132 N.J. Super. 247 (Ch. Div. 1975), holding that the directive did not modify any existing rule governing working conditions within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 34:13A-5.3, but instead, was a reasonable exercise of the judges' administrative and supervisory authority over probation officers, conferred by N.J.S.A. 2A:168-7. The Association appealed to the Appellate Division. We certified the cause on our own motion while the appeal was there pending. 68 N.J. 497 (1975).

This case requires us to consider the extent of this Court's constitutional authority and responsibility with respect

to the management, supervision and control of the administration of the judicial system within this State. More especially, we are called upon to consider this authority in relation to those public employees whose duties make them a necessary and integral part of our court system. This examination must take particular account of such public employees' rights, also deriving from the Constitution, to organize, and present and make known their grievances and proposals through representatives of their own choosing. N.J. Const., Art. 1, para. 19.

We first address ourselves to the question of the extent of this Court's authority and obligation with respect to the administration of the judicial system. The New Jersey Constitution of 1947 contains the following provisions:

The Supreme Court shall make rules governing the administration of all courts in the State and, subject to law, the practice and procedure in all such courts. The Supreme Court shall have jurisdiction over the admission to the practice of law and the discipline of persons admitted. [ N.J. Const., Art. 6, § 2, para. 3; emphasis added]

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court shall be the administrative head of all the courts in the State. He shall appoint an Administrative Director to serve at his pleasure. [ N.J. Const. Art. 6, § 7, para. 1]

It has been said -- with these constitutional provisions in mind -- that

[t]he intent of the 1947 Constitutional Convention was to vest the Supreme Court with the broadest possible administrative authority. Conceptually, such authority encompasses all facets of the internal management of our courts. . . . This was made clear by the Committee on the Judiciary which considered it a fundamental requirement that the courts be vested with 'exclusive authority over administration.' 2 Proceedings of the Constitutional Convention of 1947, at 1180. . . . [ Lichter v. County of Monmouth, 114 N.J. Super. 343, 349 (App. Div. 1971)]*fn3

Chief Justice Weintraub shared precisely the same view. He said that N.J. Const., Art. 6, § 2, para. 3 conferred upon

this Court "plenary responsibility for the administration of all courts in the State." State v. DeStasio, 49 N.J. 247, 253 (1967), and that "this Court is charged with responsibility for the overall performance of the judicial branch. Responsibility for a result implies power reasonably necessary to achieve it." In re Mattera, 34 N.J. 259, 272 (1961).

Chief Justice Vanderbilt had very forcefully expressed the same conviction.

There can be no doubt in the mind of anyone familiar with the work of the Constitutional Convention or with the ensuing election at which the Constitution was adopted by the people that, along with the desire to strengthen the powers of the Governor and to amplify the powers of the Legislature, there was a clear intent to establish a simple but fully integrated system of courts and to give to the judiciary the power and thus to impose on them the responsibility for seeing that the judicial system functioned effectively in the public interest. Indeed, in the minds of many, if not a majority, of our citizens this was the primary reason for their desire for a new constitution. [ Winberry v. Salisbury, 5 N.J. 240, 244; cert. denied, 340 U.S. 877, 71 S. Ct. 123, 95 L. Ed. 638 (1950)]

In the same suit, Justice Case, concurring, characterized this constitutional provision as placing ". . . the administration of the courts within the unfettered control of the Supreme Court. . . ." 5 N.J. at 257. He went on to point out that whereas this Court, in exercising its power to make rules governing practice and procedure, must do so "subject to law," that, by way of contrast, there was no such constricting clause applicable to its power to make rules governing the administration of the courts. 5 N.J. at 259. Here its power was plenary, measured only by its responsibility to insure fulfillment of its obligation to maintain an effective system of judicial administration.

The meaning of the constitutional provisions quoted above, as they have been consistently read and interpreted, is so clear and their purpose so manifest as to leave not the slightest doubt that this Court possesses plenary authority with respect to all matters touching ...

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