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Zamboni v. Stamler

Decided: March 6, 1985.

JOHN N. ZAMBONI, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
JOHN STAMLER, UNION COUNTY PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS. RICHARD LAZO, NICHOLAS GALLICHIO, MICHAEL J. HUGHES, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS, V. JOHN STAMLER, UNION COUNTY PROSECUTOR, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



Michels, Petrella and Baime. The opinion of the court was delivered by Baime, J.A.D.

Baime

This appeal concerns two consolidated actions instituted by several Union County detectives challenging the legal efficacy of a reorganization plan adopted by the prosecutor. At issue is the authority of the prosecutor to create superior officer positions within the unclassified service of his investigative staff and to appoint detectives to temporarily serve in that capacity.

A brief description of the applicable statutory provisions is necessary for a full understanding of the issues presented. N.J.S.A. 2A:157-2 vests in the county prosecutor the authority to appoint detectives to assist "in the detection, apprehension, arrest and conviction" of offenders. Members of the detective staff are in the classified civil service and their appointment and promotion are rigidly controlled by both statutory and

regulatory provisions. N.J.S.A. 2A:157-10 empowers the county prosecutor to appoint investigators whose statutory functions are identical with those of the detectives. However, investigators are not in the classified civil service. Rather, they serve at the prosecutor's pleasure and "are subject to removal by him" for any reason and at any time. N.J.S.A. 2A:157-10.

Under the reorganization plan, the prosecutor established superior officer positions within the unclassified service of the county investigators. The chain of command generally paralleled the hierarchical structure of the county detectives. Selected members of the detective staff were offered superior officer positions as investigators. Those detectives who accepted such offers executed temporary leaves of absence from their classified positions. They retained the right to be reinstated to their former classified status at the expiration of their leaves of absence. The prosecutor also advised the detectives that he would not consider promotions within the classified ranks. Hence, the sole means of advancement under the prosecutor's reorganization was by way of accepting a supervisory or superior officer position in the unclassified service of investigators. The articulated objective of the plan was to provide greater flexibility within the county prosecutor's office. An auxiliary purpose was to insure greater stability and expertise in the traditional trial preparatory positions.

Following adoption of the plan, plaintiffs instituted separate actions in lieu of prerogative writ. Several of the detectives also sought the intervention of the Department of Civil Service. Plaintiffs' attack on the newly adopted reorganization plan was two-fold. First, they contended that the statutory scheme, N.J.S.A. 2A:157-1 et seq., did not authorize the creation of superior officer positions among the county investigators. Second, they claimed that it was unlawful for the county detectives to retain their classified status while temporarily serving as investigators. The principal thrust of their argument was bottomed upon the assertion that the prosecutor had improperly

circumvented civil service regulations in an attempt to confer paramount authority upon the county investigators.

The Department of Civil Service refused to intervene. By letter dated May 17, 1983, directed to several of the complaining detectives, the Department's Director of County and Municipal Government Services noted that the prosecutor had "wide latitude and discretion in [determining] the size and composition" of his unclassified investigative staff. Nothing in the civil service laws and rules was said to specifically preclude the establishment of supervisory positions among investigators. He also noted that the "prosecutor's action in offering certain permanent employees in the county detectives service appointment as county investigators was not violative of civil service laws and rules." So too, the granting of mutually agreed upon leaves of absence to such employees in order to preserve their entitlement to their permanent classified status while serving in such positions was considered to be consistent with applicable regulatory provisions. In an August 9, 1983 letter, the director responded to an inquiry from Detective Zamboni. The director noted that for civil service purposes supervisory positions in the investigators' ranks would continue to be recorded under the title of County Investigator in the unclassified service (N.J.S.A. 2A:157-12) because no other title is specified in the statutes. The Department was more receptive, however, to allegations made by several of the detectives that as a result of the reorganization plan they had been assigned duties outside of their job classifications. In that regard, the Department embarked upon a series of "civil service desk audits" designed to determine whether the reorganization constituted an improper encroachment upon the responsibilities of the detectives resulting in a de facto demotion. At oral argument, we were advised that those matters remain pending before the Department.*fn1

Plaintiffs' prerogative writ action also proved unavailing. All parties moved for summary judgment upon the basis that there were no genuine issues of material fact and, thus, the matter was ripe for judicial resolution. In a published decision, Judge Beglin concluded that the reorganization plan was wholly consistent with civil service rules and regulations. Zamboni v. Stamler, 194 N.J. Super. 598, 606-607 (Law Div.1984). Specifically, he held that the statutory power to designate and appoint a sizable staff of investigators carried with it the implied authority to create superior officer positions within its ranks. Id. at 606. According to the court, the absence of designated superior officer positions in the statutory sections dealing with county investigators represented nothing more than a legislative recognition of the unclassified, untenured nature of the office itself. Id. at 606-607. The trial judge also found that the use of temporary leaves of absence to insure protection of the classified status of the detectives chosen to serve as superior investigative officers was fully supported by civil service statutes and regulations. Id. at 607. Consequently, defendant's motion for summary judgment was granted. This appeal followed.

We affirm the order granting defendant's motion for summary judgment substantially for the reasons set forth in Judge Beglin's opinion. Whatever reservations one might harbor with respect to the wisdom of the prosecutor's reorganization, we conclude that the applicable civil service rules and regulations were followed. In that regard, we ...


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