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In re 1981 County of Union Judicial Budget Impasse

June 24, 1981

IN THE MATTER OF THE 1981 COUNTY OF UNION JUDICIAL BUDGET IMPASSE

It appearing that an impasse developed between the Assignment Judge and the Board of Chosen Freeholders of Union County regarding the 1981 budget of the Judiciary, and said Assignment Judge having issued a Recommended Disposition pursuant to R. 1:33-5(a), and the Board of Chosen Freeholders and the County Manager having filed a Notice of Petition for Review of the matter with this Court, and the Court having granted said petition for review and having referred the matter to a three-member panel for factual determinations and recommendations, and the panel having held hearings on June 4 and 5, 1981 and having filed its report with the Clerk of the Supreme Court on June 17, 1981, and exceptions to the report having been filed and withdrawn by the parties, and the record having been reviewed and good cause appearing;

It is ORDERED that the factual findings and recommendations of the panel are hereby adopted; and it is further

Ordered that the Board of Chosen Freeholders is hereby directed to amend the 1981 budget of the County of Union to implement the aforesaid findings and recommendations, a copy of which are attached.

Panelists: CHARLES S. JOELSON, LAWRENCE A. CARTON, Jr., and WALTER WECHSLER.

PANEL REPORT

This is a panel report pursuant to an order of the Supreme Court of May 21, 1981, under R. 1:33-5. We conducted hearings

on June 4 and June 5, 1981. The judiciary presented 9 witnesses, the principal ones being Trial Court Administrator John Miri, Criminal Assignment Clerk James Brown, Civil Assignment Clerk Louis Moro, Director of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Division Robert Fitzpatrick, Chief Probation Officer Ross Doyle, and Sheriff Ralph Froehlich. The county presented five witnesses, principally County Manager George Albanese and Finance Director & County Treasurer Arthur Grisi. Wide range for cross examination of all witnesses was afforded. Eighteen exhibits in the form of documents were received from the judiciary and nine from the county.

In reviewing the order of the Assignment Judge of April 30, 1981, we have applied the test of "whether the appropriation is reasonably necessary" as directed by R. 1:33-5(e). However, in applying that test, we have considered the "cap" limitations under N.J.S.A. 40A:4-45.4 faced by the county. To decide the matter wearing blinders to "cap"-related fiscal problems of Union County would be unrealistic. We are persuaded, and it is not denied, that the county's 1981 budget as finally approved is at the limit of expenditures legally permissible. Although we have not reviewed the entire county budget, unrefuted testimony by the county indicated that substantial reductions have been made, including the elimination of numerous positions in county government generally. We are mindful of the fact that any substantial increases ordered for the judiciary could result in corresponding decreases for other important county functions.

While aware of the fiscal problems of Union County, we must also keep in mind the absolute essentiality that the courts be enabled to perform their judicial functions to the end that the administration of justice not be impaired. Maintaining the delicate balance between these competing considerations is no easy task. While we are recommending that several of the appropriations ordered by the Assignment Judge be disallowed, we deem it only fair to state that in so doing we do not find that all disallowed appropriations would be wasteful or could not be used to some advantage. However, as we have indicated above,

we determine reasonable necessity in the context of the county's strained financial conditions. If the taxpayers desire "cap" laws and substantial diminution or elimination of federal assistance heretofore available to support the judicial system, they must be willing to forego optimum conditions.

The following are the recommendations of this panel on the disputed appropriations ordered by the Assignment Judge:

BUDGET ACCOUNT # 051 -- SUPERIOR COURTS -- PERSONNEL

1. The first item ordered in this account is for an additional Assistant to the Court of Administrator at an annual salary of $18,000 plus fringe benefits. Union County already has a Trial Court Administrator and two Assistants to the Trial Court Administrator. We are satisfied that this complement is adequate to handle the varied duties of the office of the Trial Court Administrator. We do not accept the assessment of the Trial Court Administrator that one of his assistants must devote full time to those duties of the office involving Municipal Courts. Although we have not made an analysis of all the judicial vicinages of the state, we note that Passaic County which, like Union, is a county of the second class has only one Assistant Trial Court Administrator and that Bergen, a county of first class, has only two. The Trial Court Administrator's presentation before us did not disclose any vicinage that has three. We find that with a well delineated division of the duties the Trial Court Administrator's office and precise work assignments, the present number of personnel should adequately handle the workload. Therefore, we recommend that the appropriation for an additional Assistant to the Trial Court Administrator be disallowed.

2. The second item ordered is for two clerk-stenographers: one in the office of the Criminal Assignment Clerk, the other in the office of the Civil Assignment Clerk. According to an affidavit of the Criminal Assignment Clerk, there has been a

63% increase in the number of indictments for the period of January 1 through April 30, 1981, over the same period in 1980. Furthermore, he stated that because of a speedy trial program directed for cases arising out of all municipalities in Union County, the need to gather and collate data is greater and the numbers of forms to be completed and filed has increased. He asserts that as a result, his office is falling behind in its work schedules. The county has not disproved these statements. We find that because of an increased workload in the office of the Criminal Assignment Clerk's office, an additional employee is reasonably necessary. However, the additional employee can be a clerk-typist rather than a clerk-stenographer. Since the Assignment Judge does not seek this additional employee until Sept. 1, 1981 when the new court term begins, we recommend one additional clerk-typist in the office of the Criminal Assignment Clerk effective Sept. 1, 1981. At the prevailing rate on a pro rata basis, this will result in an appropriation of $4,076, including fringe benefits, for the remainder of 1981.

With regard to the Civil Assignment Clerk, his presentation indicated that the workload of his office has increased due to the new early settlement program involving additional lists and extra phone calls, an accelerated disposition program, and a steadily increasing filing of new cases. He further stated that despite the mounting workload, since April 1, 1981, his clerical staff has diminished from five to three employees on a full time basis. The Assignment Judge found it necessary to transfer two clerical employees to matrimonial cases, leaving them to work on civil cases one hour daily on Mondays through Thursday and two hours on Fridays. The slack has partially been taken up by a worker hired under the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA), but the funding for this employee is about to be terminated.

We find that because of the increased workload and the diminution of personnel in the Office of the Civil Assignment Clerk, an additional employee is reasonably necessary. This employee need ...


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