On June 28, 1983, the Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a directive establishing uniform budget procedures to be undertaken at the county level by Assignment Judges and Trial Court Administrators. The Camden County Board of Chosen Freeholders objected to the directive. It adopted a resolution so stating, which also requested defendant, Michael S. Keating, the Camden County Clerk, to place upon the ballot at the November 1983 general election the following non-binding referendum and interpretative statement:
Shall the Camden County Board of Chosen Freeholders be bound by the budget directive of the New Jersey Supreme Court in its attempt to expand the involvement of the judiciary in areas of budgeting and fiscal responsibility previously reserved for the offices of County Clerk, Sheriff and Surrogate without any accountability of the judiciary to the taxpayers of Camden County?
The approval of this non-binding referendum would demonstrate the voters' support of expanded judicial involvement in the county's budgeting process and would remove the independence and accountability to the taxpayers of the County Clerk, Sheriff and Surrogate.
The resolution was adopted on September 20, 1983, 12 days less than the deadline required for submission of such referenda to the Clerk, who therefore rejected the request.
This suit in lieu of prerogative writs was promptly instituted. It requests an order directing the Clerk to place the question and interpretative statement on the ballot. The County Clerk advises that he can accommodate the request provided he receives an order to do so not later than October 10, 1983. The Attorney General appears on his own behalf in opposition to the County's request.
The directive is entitled "Budget Directive on Trial Court Fiscal Responsibility." Its purpose is stated as follows:
In order to achieve efficiency and economy for cost-effective operation of the trial courts of New Jersey, to discharge the Judiciary's duty of accountability for the expenditure of funds at the trial court level, and to identify costs (1) for comparisons among counties and (2) for possible assumption, this directive establishes the basis for the development and maintenance of a uniform county judicial budget.
It notes that the Committee on Efficiency in the Operation of the Courts of New Jersey has stated that budgets for the judiciary are "so fragmented that they fail to provide adequate management information for effective control of the resources employed by the trial court system."
Execution of the directive as well as budget preparation and management is made the responsibility of the Assignment Judge of each county, assisted by the Trial Court Administrator. The scope of the judicial budget, its organization and internal review procedures are established. It provides that "[t]he judiciary shall be fully accountable and responsible ...