These consolidated actions raise significant issues regarding the authority of county prosecutors to make appointments to positions of superior officers in the investigative staff in the unclassified service.
The County Detectives and County Investigators Act (Revision of 1951, N.J.S.A. 2A:157-1 et seq., (hereafter "the act") vests in each prosecutor the power to appoint county detectives and county investigators. County detectives are in the classified service of the civil service and "shall possess all the powers
and rights and be subject to all the obligations of police officers, constables and special deputy sheriffs in criminal matters." N.J.S.A. 2A:157-2. The prosecutor is authorized to appoint up to a certain number of suitable persons (with specified minimum salaries) depending upon the class of the county, "to be known as county detectives, to assist the prosecutor in the detection, apprehension, arrest and conviction of offenders against the law." Ibid. The act goes on to specify, again depending upon the class of county, the number and titles of superior officers within the detective ranks, e.g., chief, deputy chief, captain, lieutenant and sergeant. See N.J.S.A. 2A:157-3 through 9.
The additional office or position of county investigator in the office of the prosecutor is authorized by N.J.S.A. 2A:157-10. The functions, powers and obligations of county investigators are identical with those of county detectives, but the office or position is placed in the unclassified service of the civil service, county investigators serve at the pleasure of the prosecutor and are subject to removal by him. Ibid. Their number and minimum salaries also depend upon the class of the county. N.J.S.A. 2A:157-11 through 16. With respect to superior officers within the investigator ranks, however, the act is silent.
In Union County, a county of the second class with a population of approximately 504,000 (1980 U.S. Census), the prosecutor is authorized to appoint not in excess of 28 county detectives, one of whom may be designated as chief of county detectives, one as deputy chief of county detectives, one as captain of county detectives, six as lieutenants of county detectives and four as sergeants of county detectives. N.J.S.A. 2A:157-4(b). Some, if not all, of these superior officer positions have been filled for some time. The statutory scheme also authorizes not in excess of 30 county investigators to be appointed by the prosecutor, given the population of the county.
Late in 1982, Prosecutor Stamler sought to reorganize the Detective Bureau, and in so doing to consider for promotion to
superior officer positions those presently serving as county detectives and county investigators. This was apparently the first time county investigators were to be considered for and promoted to superior officer positions. All promotions were to be made solely within the county investigator rank. Accordingly, county detectives who desired to be considered for promotion were requested to execute Civil Service Form 6, a "Request for Personnel Action," so as to effect a leave of absence from the classified service and request a change in job title classification to county investigator.*fn1 After completion of an evaluation process, the prosecutor determined those persons to be promoted. It is clear the prosecutor sought by this plan to place primary responsibility upon the investigative staff for assistance in "the detection, apprehension, arrest and conviction of offenders against the law." N.J.S.A. 2A:157-10.
Effective March 1, 1983, nineteen promotions took place, all within the investigative ranks: four lieutenants of county detectives were promoted to captains of county investigators; three sergeants of county detectives were promoted to lieutenants of county investigators; and twelve county investigators were promoted to sergeants of county investigators. [All seven classified employees had executed six-month leave of absence and job classification request forms].
Plaintiff Zamboni, a lieutenant of county detectives, was considered but not promoted. He alleges he executed the CS-6 forms reluctantly, if not under duress, but in any event they were not accepted or signed by the prosecutor. Plaintiffs Lazo, Gallicchio and Hughes, county detectives, did not apply for leaves of absence nor request a change ...