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Trainor v. Burlington County Board of Chosen Freeholders

Decided: October 15, 1984.

LILLIAN M. TRAINOR, RAY VRANICH, FRANK CAULFIELD, JEANNINE GENDER AND PAUL STEPHENSON, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
BURLINGTON COUNTY BOARD OF CHOSEN FREEHOLDERS, JOHN SACCA, SUPERINTENDENT OF ELECTIONS, AND BURLINGTON COUNTY BOARD OF ELECTIONS, DEFENDANTS



Haines, A.j.s.c.

Haines

The Burlington County Board of Chosen Freeholders created the Office of Superintendent of Elections on May 23, 1984. The defendant, John Sacca, was appointed to that office on August 8, 1984, by a Board resolution which provided in pertinent part as follows:

FURTHER RESOLVED pursuant to N.J.S.A. 19:32-50 all appropriations made in the budget of the County Board of Elections except those made for the payment of the salaries of the members of the Board of Elections shall be transferred and made available to the Superintendent of Elections for the carrying out of his powers and functions vested in him under the statutes, which shall include appropriations for salaries and wages, control and conduct of permanent registration, and custody, maintenance and distribution of voting machines.*fn1

He thereupon seized control of the Board of Elections' offices and all of its furniture, equipment, files, and employees. He changed the locks on the doors of the offices and refused to

give keys to members of the Board.*fn2 This suit, brought by two Democrat members of the Board of Elections and three Democrat candidates for office in the November 1984 election, seeks restraints against the various actions of the Board of Freeholders and the Superintendent together with other appropriate relief. Earlier negotiations designed to resolve the issues by agreement have failed.

The Board of Freeholders, recognizing its obligation to provide some resources for the operation of the Board of Elections, takes the position that it cannot make an appropriate allocation of money, employees, office space, furniture and equipment until the Board of Elections has certified its needs to the Board of Freeholders. The Board of Elections, however, cannot provide a certification. It is deadlocked. That Board is composed of two Democrats and two Republicans who cannot agree upon an appropriate allocation. Indeed, it has been unable to employ counsel in connection with this proceeding and is an unrepresented defendant.

The Attorney General appeared initially for the Superintendent of Elections. However, he also represents the Board of Elections. As a consequence, he withdrew from representation of either of these offices, recognizing a conflict of interest. He was permitted, nevertheless, to intervene on his own behalf "in order to address any issue which relates to, or affects, the proper administration of the election statutes of the State of New Jersey and the conduct of elections to be held in Burlington County."

There is no serious dispute concerning the validity of the creation of the Office of Superintendent of Elections by the Board of Freeholders or the validity of the appointment of John Sacca as Superintendent. The court holds that these actions

were proper. The issues, therefore, involve the allocation of resources between the Board of Elections and the Superintendent of Elections and the procedures to be followed in making that allocation.

A. The Deadlocked Board of Elections

The Board of Elections has been unable to act as a Board in connection with this controversy because of the differences of opinion between the Democrat and Republican members. It has not been able to adopt any position with respect to the allocation of resources or to select an attorney to appear on its behalf in the present litigation. The within complaint was filed on August 30, 1984. The matter was argued on that date and postponed to September 7, 1984, for further argument. Meanwhile, the members of the Board of Elections were instructed to continue negotiations in an effort to resolve their disputes. All parties were advised that the court would consider the appointment of a receiver for the Board of Elections on that date in the event the matter was not resolved by agreement. Argument concerning the proposed appointment was invited.

On September 7, 1984, the court was advised that no agreement had been reached. Plaintiffs supported and defendants opposed the proposed appointment. Some parties requested further time for negotiation. The court decided that a master, not a receiver, should be appointed to carry out the functions of the Board of Elections with respect to the allocation of resources between the Board and the Superintendent. The appointment was delayed, however, until September 14, 1984, in order to provide one more week within which opportunities for agreement could be explored.

The delay produced no change and, on September 14, 1984, the court therefore appointed the Public Advocate as master to:

(a) Prepare a position paper setting forth the needs of the Board of Elections for the remainder of its fiscal year, recognizing, in doing so, the needs of the

Superintendent of Elections and to present that paper to the Board of Freeholders not later than October 15, 1984.

(b) Meet with the parties for the purpose of negotiating a solution to the disputes.

(c) Present to this court the position of the Board of Elections as to the responsibilities of that Board following the appointment of the Superintendent.

The appointment of a master is authorized by R. 4:41-1, which provides in part as follows:

The reference for the hearing in the matter by judge of the Superior Court shall be made to a master only upon approval by the Chief Justice, except where the reference is for the taking of the deposition, or as to matters heard by a standing master appointed pursuant to R. 1:34-1, or under extraordinary circumstances.

The circumstances in which the Board of Elections finds itself in this case are deemed to be "extraordinary." Nevertheless, the approval of the Chief Justice was obtained.

Case law also supports the appointment. In So. Burlington Cty, N.A.A.C.P. v. Mt. Laurel Tp., 92 N.J. 158 (1983), the court authorized the appointment of special masters to assist municipal officials in the development of ...


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