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Ramer v. Byrne

Decided: November 23, 1977.


Schoch, A.j.s.c.


[154 NJSuper Page 465] This matter is before the court on cross-motions for summary judgment. Plaintiff filed an action in lieu of Prerogative writs seeking an order requiring defendants to produce for his inspection and copying all

records pertaining to the use of the expense allowance appropriated by the Legislature for the Governor for the fiscal years 1974-75, 1975-76 and 1976-77. Defendants are the Governor, the Director of Budget and Accounting, the Governor's Acting Executive Secretary and the Governor's personal secretary.

The appropriation which is the subject matter of this suit is in the amount of $35,000 and is contained in the annual appropriation bill for each of the fiscal years, and worded as follows:

An allowance to the Governor of funds not otherwise appropriated, for official reception on behalf of the State, operation of an official residence and other expenses.

There is no factual dispute about the manner in which these funds are disbursed to the Governor from the State Treasury. Four times a year the Governor submits a voucher for one-fourth of the appropriation, or $8,750 -- these vouchers being submitted in advance of any disbursement by the Governor, i.e. , the first voucher for the '76-'77 fiscal year being submitted on July 1, 1976, and quarterly thereafter. The check from the Treasury in payment of this voucher is then put into a savings account used only for that purpose in the name of Brendan T. Byrne, Governor of New Jersey, and withdrawals from that account are made by his Executive Secretary or personal secretary and the funds placed in a checking account, and bills submitted to the Governor's office are then paid from that account. The checkbooks, records, invoices, etc., relating to these two bank accounts are kept by and in the possession of the Governor's personal secretary. No detailed accounting of any sort is made by or on behalf of the Governor to the Director of Budget and Accounting.

The arguments raised by plaintiff follow this sequence: The defendant Budget Director has an obligation to keep or maintain records of the $35,000 account as required by the State Constitution and several statutes; the records of this

account are subject to inspection under the Right To Know Law, N.J.S.A. 47:1A-4, because of the statutory requirement to keep records of this account; no defendant can defeat the right to inspect by a failure to keep records; defendant Byrne has a statutory obligation to keep these records; the records that are presently in the possession of the Governor's personal secretary are subject to inspection by applying a reading of N.J.S.A. 47:1A-4 and 47:3-8.1 in pari materia , and in any event, plaintiff has a common law right to inspect these records.

The constitutional authority relied on by plaintiff refers to N.J. Const. (1947), Art. VII, ยง 1, par. 6, which defines the position of State Auditor and includes the following:

It shall be his duty to conduct post audits of all transactions and accounts kept by or for all departments, offices and agencies of the State government, to report to the Legislature or to any committee thereof as shall be required by law, and to perform such other similar or related duties as shall, from time to time, be required of him by law.

Defendants counter these arguments by contending that the constitutional and statutory requirements have been met by defendant Budget Director in maintaining the records of the disbursement of the funds from the State Treasury to the Governor, and that no further action by way of accounting is required of the Budget Director. Defendants concede that these records are encompassed by the definitions of public records set forth in N.J.S.A. 47:1A-2 and 47:3-16. They argue that considering the type of appropriation, the legislative history and the manner in which this appropriation has customarily been handled negate any finding that the detailed records of disbursements from this appropriated fund are "public records."

For reasons which will appear below, I find that defendant Budget Director has met all of the constitutional and statutory requirements, and insofar as that defendant is concerned, he is ...

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