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In re Adler

Decided: November 9, 1977.

IN THE MATTER OF FRANCES ADLER ET AL., CHARGED WITH CONTEMPT OF COURT, APPELLANTS


Conford, Michels and Pressler.

Per Curiam

[153 NJSuper Page 498] These are three consolidated groups of appeals, arising out of adjudications of contempt, by striking Matawan Regional School District teachers, of a restraining

order of the Chancery Division ordering them back to work. All pleaded guilty of contempt of court. They were sentenced in three groups, as follows.

Group I consists of 44 defendants who were sentenced October 6, 1977: 6 to a jail term of 30 days and $150 fine; one to a jail term of 10 days and $50 fine; 34 to a jail term of 20 days and $100 fine, and 3 to a suspended jail term and a $100 fine.

Group II consists of 33 defendants sentenced October 20, 1977; 5 to a jail term of 30 days and $150 fine; 27 to a jail term of 20 days and a $100 fine, and 1 to a suspended jail term and a $250 fine.

Group III consists of 39 defendants sentenced October 27, 1977: 2 to a 30 day jail term and $150 fine; 31 to a 20 day jail term and $100 fine, and 6 to a suspended jail term and $250 fine.

All defendants sentenced to confinement were given the option of work release.

The appeal of Group I was heard by the court November 7, 1977 on an accelerated schedule. Notices of appeal having been filed as to Group II and Group III, it was stipulated and ordered in open court that the three groups of cases be considered consolidated on appeal and decided together, the arguments and briefs submitted as to Group I be deemed applicable to the others, without further briefs or argument.

On appeal of a summary conviction for a contempt the appellate court reviews on the law and the facts and exercises sentencing power de novo on the trial record. N.J.S.A. 2A:10-3; R. 2:10-4. In re Education Ass'n of Passaic, Inc. , 117 N.J. Super. 255, 259 (App. Div. 1971), certif. den. 60 N.J. 198 (1972). The sentences we pronounce hereinafter represent our independent conception of just and appropriate sanctions under all the attendant circumstances.

Defendants argue that there was a deficiency in sentencing them for contempt without the prior submission of

a presentence report. R. 3:21-2. Since we are to sentence anew, the question is whether we may pronounce sentence without such a report. Sensitive to the implications of the question, in our order setting the matter down for argument we solicited briefing and affidavits, particularized as to each defendant, as to appropriate punishment. These were not supplied. While a presentence report might be of value, the necessity for prompt adjudication of alleged contempts by over 100 individuals would render such a prerequisite difficult. Having in mind that these defendants are all school teachers, and the ambiguous nature of a contempt in respect of criminality, see In re Buehrer , 50 N.J. 501, 516-517 (1967), we do not regard a presentence report as indispensable in the exercise of our sentencing discretion as to the offenses in the present context. Cf. State v. Culver , 40 N.J. Super. 427, 431-432 (App. Div. 1956), aff'd 23 N.J. 495 (1957); State v. Alvarado , 51 N.J. 375 (1968). We point out, moreover, that where special circumstances warranted suspension of jail terms, such action was taken by the trial court, and we will do the same.

Defendants in Group I complain that they did not intend by their guilty pleas to plead guilty to more than one day's contempt, whereas some of them were charged with two, and some with three days' abstention from attendance at school after notice of the restraining order, and sentenced accordingly. However, the record establishes beyond the possibility of misapprehension that their counsel was fully aware of the fact that some sentences were being meted out for multiple days' offenses, ...


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