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In re Court Reorganization Plan of Hudson County

Decided: August 4, 1978.

IN RE THE MATTER OF THE COURT REORGANIZATION PLAN OF HUDSON COUNTY


On appeal from order of the Assignment Judge of Hudson County.

Milmed, Larner and Ard. The opinion of the court was delivered by Larner, J.A.D.

Larner

[161 NJSuper Page 487] This appeal arises out of a series of 16 orders issued by the Assignment Judge of Hudson County in his administrative capacity in implementation of the reorganization of the assignment procedures of civil and criminal causes in that county. We stayed the implementation of these orders pending disposition of the appeal and considered the merits of the same on an accelerated basis because of the importance of an early determination to the efficient functioning of the courts of Hudson County. The orders pertain to personnel designated as assistants to the assignment judge pursuant to the authority vested in him by R. 1:33-3(b) as the chief of the judicial system in the county. The orders deal with two categories of designated assistants, one in which the appointees have been acting in that capacity in the past, and the other in which employees in another

capacity have been designated as assistants to the assignment judge with different duties and responsibilities. The orders not only designate the personnel to serve as assistants, but also establish their salaries for the current year, commencing July 1, 1978.

The record abundantly demonstrates that the assignment judge and his court administrator sought to achieve the reorganization plan encompassing the assignments and salary designations through normal channels of submission to the county executive and board of chosen freeholders and their representatives on numerous occasions over a long period of time. It was only when such efforts proved fruitless and the county officials failed to approve or implement the requests of the assignment judge that he undertook the drastic remedy of issuing an order to show cause why the county officials should not be ordered to process and implement the changes in personnel and salaries.

This order to show cause merely served as the mechanism for granting the county executive and board of chosen freeholders an opportunity to be heard and voice their objections on the question of the proposed order. The order, however, was a purely administrative one issued by the judge in his administrative capacity rather than his judicial capacity. And although a hearing was not essential at that stage of the proceeding, the opportunity for the same reflects the sensible consideration of one public official for others where the proposed action may have an impact on the discharge of the responsibilities by such other public officials. See In re Petit Jury Panels, Essex County , 60 N.J. 554, 563-564 (1972).

The dichotomy between administrative and judicial action of the assignment judge becomes significant on this appeal only because of appellants' contention that due process was not afforded to them in view of the failure of Judge O'Brien to disqualify himself at the hearing. This contention is manifestly without merit since it is based upon a mistaken view of the role of an assignment judge in this administrative

function relating to court personnel. The hearing itself was not mandated by the due process requirements of proceedings involving adjudications between litigants. As already noted, appellants were granted a hearing as a gratuitous gesture and Judge O'Brien did not undertake to decide a justiciable controversy; nor did he sit in review of his own action. He simply used the public forum of a courtroom to hear the views of the county officials and to express his reasons for the issuance of the administrative order. This fully accords with fundamental fairness in this area of judicial administration, preserving the right of the aggrieved parties to seek review by appeal to this court.

Although appellants initially took the position that the assignment judge was compelled to accept as his assistants under R. 1:33-3(b) those employees on the county clerk's payroll who may be assigned by the county clerk, at oral argument their counsel conceded the indisputable precept that the assignment judge has exclusive power to designate as assistants those employees of the courts whom he feels would best serve the judicial system. The issue on this appeal has thus been narrowed to the question whether the assignment judge has the power to fix the compensation to be paid by the county to those whom he appoints as his assistants under R. 1:33-3(b), which provides:

To assist him, he [the assignment judge] may designate, to serve at his pleasure, from among the court clerks and other employees of the courts in the county such assignment clerks and other assistants as he may deem necessary or desirable.

And if he has that power, where does the burden lie as to proof of reasonableness and necessity for the salaries fixed by him?

Prior to our consideration of the legal aspects of this issue, we pause to observe that the record before us amply supports the need for the reorganization plan proposed by the assignment judge. It is not in our province to determine ...


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