On appeal from Camden County Court.
Fritz, Bischoff and Morgan. The opinion of the court was delivered by Bischoff, J.A.D.
[166 NJSuper Page 285] The sole issue involved in this appeal is whether a County Court judge, sitting in de novo review
proceedings of municipal action regarding the discipline of a police officer pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40A:14-150, may increase the severity of the discipline previously imposed by the municipality.
Appellant Lawrence Bruni, a policeman in the Township of Winslow, was charged by a police sergeant on January 6, 1977 with violating six rules and regulations of the township police department and was suspended by Chief Stowell for 15 days.
On February 8, 1977 Chief Stowell dismissed Bruni effective February 9, 1977 on eight additional charges of violating departmental rules and regulations and municipal ordinances. Bruni appealed both the dismissal and the suspension and a hearing was held before the Mayor and Director of Public Safety of the township. Since the Township of Winslow has not adopted Civil Service, these review proceedings were conducted pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40A:14-147 and N.J.S.A. 40A:14-148. After this departmental hearing Bruni was found not guilty of incompetence but found guilty of seven charges of violating rules and regulations regarding: (1) appearance, (2) breach of discipline, (3) discourtesy or insolence, (4) neglect or disobedience of orders, (5) insubordination, (6) failure to make a written report and (7) incapacity for duty arising from a lack of education. The dismissal imposed by the chief was modified by the mayor to (1) suspension for approximately two months, (2) probation for nine months, (3) the requirement that Bruni obtain a high school equivalency certificate and (4) that he pass a test in police investigating techniques.
Bruni appealed to the County Court pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40A:14-150. At the hearing on that appeal the parties stipulated that the court should use the transcript of the hearing before the mayor as the record on appeal, to be supplemented by testimony and argument of counsel.
In a letter opinion the county judge found Bruni guilty of the same seven charges of which he had been found guilty by the mayor and concluded that the facts underlying the "violations of Officer Bruni compel his dismissal as a police
officer of Winslow Township." An order of dismissal was entered.
Before the County Court Bruni conceded guilt of the charges against him and only contested the severity of the penalty imposed by the mayor. On appeal to this court Bruni does not challenge the determination of guilt. Nor does he assert that the dismissal from employment imposed by the County Court is excessive in the abstract.
Bruni's sole contention is that "any penalty entered pursuant to an appeal brought under N.J.S.A. 40A:14-150 cannot be greater than that initially imposed." That statute provides in pertinent part as follows:
Any member or officer of a police department or force in a municipality wherein Title 11 (Civil Service) of the Revised Statutes is not in operation, who has been tried and convicted upon any charge or charges, may obtain a review thereof by the County Court of the county wherein such municipality is located. * * * The County Court shall hear the case de novo and may either affirm, reverse or modify such conviction. If the applicant shall have been removed from this office, employment or position the court may direct that he be restored to such ...