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Ruvoldt v. Clark

Decided: October 27, 1983.

HAROLD J. RUVOLDT, JR., PROSECUTOR OF HUDSON COUNTY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
EDWARD F. CLARK, JR. COUNTY EXECUTIVE, DEFENDANT



Humphreys, A.j.s.c.

Humphreys

The Prosecutor of Hudson County seeks to compel the County to process his requisition for the purchase of radios. The novel issue to be determined is whether the County has control over a Prosecutor's non-salary expenditures which do not exceed his budget. The court rules that the County does not.*fn1

The Prosecutor in his verified complaint sets forth the following. He needs the radios to put into effect in Hudson County

the State Police Emergency Network Radio system. That network is the only radio system which is shared by all police departments throughout the State. The Prosecutor would use the radios to notify local police departments of an impending execution of a search warrant.

The obtaining and execution of search warrants are conducted with the utmost secrecy, often to the exclusion of local police departments. Only at the moment of execution is the local department notified of the Prosecutor's presence and intention to execute a warrant in their community. The telephone is the only presently available practical method of such local notification in Hudson County. Telephone notice in such an emotionally charged and potentially dangerous situation as the armed execution of a search warrant, is far too slow and uncertain to ensure the safety of the Prosecutor's staff, local police and the public. On at least one occasion an unsuccessful attempt to notify by telephone led to an armed confrontation in a public street between members of the Prosecutor's staff and a local uninformed patrol unit.

The total amount of the requisition is $18,570 and is based on a quote from Motorola, Inc. On several occasions in the last four months the Prosecutor's staff communicated with the Hudson County Purchasing Department in an attempt to learn the status of the requisition. To date, the Purchasing Department has not responded. The requisition in question falls well within the Prosecutor's budget appropriation for "other expenses".

The defendant does not challenge the above facts, nor has the defendant requested oral testimony or other formal proof. The County's position is that it has the right to refuse to process the Prosecutor's requisition; and that if the Prosecutor differs, he must seek approval of the Assignment Judge under the so-called Bigley Statute N.J.S.A. 2A:158-7. However, in the leading case of In re Application of Bigley, 55 N.J. 53, 58 (1969), Chief Justice Weintraub said that the Bigley statute "is fairly

read to continue to deal only with expenditures beyond appropriations." [Emphasis Supplied]. Here the expenditure does not exceed the amount appropriated for the Prosecutor.

The difficulty with upholding the County's position is that it would give the County the authority to control all the Prosecutor's expenditures, subject only to the overriding authority of the Assignment Judge to permit the expenditure if reasonable necessity were shown. Restricting the Prosecutor in such a manner would interfere with his independence and the proper exercise of his duties. See Bigley, supra at 56. Every time the Prosecutor wished to make an expenditure, he would have to seek the approval of county government. His effectiveness as a prosecutor could be quickly undermined by county delay or intransigence. In this case, for example, the Prosecutor submitted the requisition some five months ago. He followed up by telephone communication and by correspondence. The County completely ignored him. No reason has been advanced by the County as to why that form sat in the county office for five months. The Prosecutor cannot carry out his duties effectively if he is delayed by the inaction of county government.

The County is not totally bereft of authority with respect to the funding of the Prosecutor's Office. The County Freeholders must make the initial determination as to the amount of the appropriations for the Prosecutor's Office. If the Prosecutor differs, he must establish before the Assignment Judge the reasonable necessity of expenditures in excess of the amount authorized by the Freeholders. Furthermore, the Board of Freeholders has statutory authority to fix salaries in the Prosecutor's Office, even if those salaries are within the Prosecutor's appropriations. In re Ruvoldt Application, 187 N.J. Super. 81, 91 (App.Div.1982). See N.J.S.A. 2A:158-16. The Freeholders, ...


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