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In re Burlington County Board of Chosen Freeholders

Decided: January 21, 1983.

IN RE APPLICATION OF THE BURLINGTON COUNTY BOARD OF CHOSEN FREEHOLDERS FOR AN INVESTIGATION OF THE OFFICE OF SHERIFF


Haines, A.j.s.c.

Haines

[188 NJSuper Page 345] The Burlington County Board of Chosen Freeholders has filed a resolution with the Assignment Judge of Burlington County requesting a summary investigation of the Office of the Sheriff of Burlington County. The resolution states in part that conduct of the Sheriff's Office "has raised serious questions regarding the safety of the public, the judiciary and the expenditure of public funds." It "suggest[s] the need for an independent investigation into the affairs of the Office of the Burlington County Sheriff." The resolution is supported by affidavits and newspaper clippings. They state that union members are being discriminated against; officers are guarding empty cells; applications by prospective employees are being discouraged; sheriff's officers are being used for the private purposes of the sheriff; qualified officers are being denied the right to carry firearms when transporting prisoners; selected employees are being denied the right to use the sheriff's lounge and the county cafeteria; false representations are being made concerning employment openings; process servers are permitted to participate in conflicts of interest; employees are being suspended without cause; women are discriminated against; false information is disseminated to avoid Civil Service regulations and the sheriff has failed to provide the courts with adequate security personnel, such personnel being available and hidden for the purpose of supporting the sheriff's position that he needs more employees.

The resolution relies upon N.J.S.A. 40A:5-22, which provides in pertinent part as follows:

A judge of the Superior Court may, in his discretion, make a summary investigation into the affairs of any local unit and appoint an expert or experts to prosecute such investigation whenever

(b) a resolution of the governing body requesting such investigation shall be presented to him.

The court responded to the resolution by issuing an order to the sheriff to show cause why the requested investigation should not be undertaken.

Sheriff Brennan, appearing in opposition to the freeholders' request, argues that he is a constitutional officer, that his office is not subject to an investigation launched by a county board of freeholders and is not a "local unit" as defined by the statute. Finally, he claims that the information upon which the resolution is based is not sufficient to permit the assignment judge to proceed with an investigation.

He has filed a lengthy counter-affidavit with numerous exhibits attached. In it, he denies all of the specific allegations of misconduct providing various explanations. He states that prospective employees are told about the risks and hardships of the job, all of which are real and may be discouraging to applicants; it is his obligation, however, to tell them the facts. He has never intended discouragement and has never discriminated against women or union members. Civil service regulations have always been followed. The only private interest of the sheriff in which his employees are involved is a long-standing program involving the delivery of Christmas baskets to the needy. Any services performed by his employees in this connection do not interfere with their duties. The decision as to what employees may carry guns is a management decision. The exercise of this prerogative has not been discriminatory; many officers, both male and female, are not authorized to carry guns. It is true that employees have been denied the right to use the sheriff's lounge. This is a matter of judgment. It has been

considered advisable to limit that use in order to prevent loafing on the job. It is also true that sheriff's officers are serving process for the county district court and may do so when working for the sheriff. The arrangement, however, has been approved by a succession of Superior Court judges. The fact that sheriff's officers may be guarding empty cells from time to time is not of significance. These cells are empty one moment and filled the next and it is entirely appropriate to have men stationed in them at all times. Finally, the sheriff notes that no grievance has ever been filed by any of his employees, including those who signed the affidavits supporting the freeholders' resolution.

I. THE SHERIFF -- THE DIMENSIONS OF HIS OFFICE

Art. VII, § 2, par. 2 of our Constitution provides that:

County clerks, surrogates and sheriffs shall be elected by the people of their respective counties at general elections. The term of office of county clerks and surrogates shall be five years, and of sheriffs three years. Whenever a vacancy shall occur in any such office it shall be filled in the manner to be provided by law.

Art. VII, § 3, par. 1, provides that:

The Governor and all other State officers, while in office and for two years thereafter, shall be liable to impeachment for misdemeanor committed during ...


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