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In re Judges of Passaic County

Decided: July 29, 1985.

IN THE MATTER OF JUDGES OF PASSAIC COUNTY, PUBLIC-EMPLOYER-RESPONDENT, AND LOCAL 153, OFFICE AND PROFESSIONAL EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION, PETITIONER, AND COUNCIL # 3, NEW JERSEY CIVIL SERVICE ASSOCIATION, AND PASSAIC COUNTY CLERKS ASSOCIATION, INTERVENORS, AND COUNTY OF PASSAIC, PARTY-AT-INTEREST-APPELLANT


On Certification to Public Employment Relations Commission.

For remandment -- Chief Justice Wilentz, and Justices Clifford, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern and Garibaldi. Opposed -- None.

Per Curiam

This appeal concerns the proper procedure for determining who is a judicial employee for the purpose of resolving issues of representation in public employment. We agree with the Public Employment Relations Commission that it lacked the jurisdiction to make a final resolution of that issue in the circumstances of this case. We believe, however, that Passaic County is entitled to a hearing on its contentions that the subject employees are not judicial employees, and hence, as a matter of comity, we remand the cause to the Commission for a factual recommendation on that issue.

I.

The dispute began in February 1981 when a petition for certification of public employee representation was submitted to the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) by Local 153, Office and Professional Employees International Union, with respect to a proposed bargaining unit to be composed of certain clerical employees at the Passaic County Court House. Subsequently, an amended petition was filed expanding the petition or unit to include "[a]ll clerical employees assigned to Register, Surrogate, Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, District Court, Probation, and County Clerk of the County of Passaic." PERC accepted the amended petition on March 10, 1981.

As a consequence of the petition, PERC's Director of Representation convened a conference on May 5, 1981 at which an agreement for a consent election was reached. A representative of the Assignment Judge of Passaic County designated 296 employees as appropriate for the judicial unit. A representative of the County of Passaic signed the consent agreement.

Following the execution of the consent agreement, the County of Passaic sought to withdraw its consent, contending that it was under the impression that the County of Passaic was to be designated as the employer of the unit for collective bargaining purposes. It contended that it, and not the judiciary, had the right to negotiate with judicial clerical employees in monetary matters. The County then requested a stay of the consent election until the matter of who was to be considered the employer of the unit was determined. Subsequently, the County of Passaic admitted that 65 of the 296 listed employees were appropriately to be considered judicial employees because they had been appointed to their positions by the Assignment Judge of Passaic County pursuant to Rule 1:33-4(e); but the County objected to the remainder of them being considered judiciary employees because, for the most part, they had been hired through Civil Service and did what the County described as "routine functions pursuant to their job descriptions." The Director of Representation then invited all parties to submit materials on the issue of who should be designated as the employer. The County requested a hearing to adjudicate its claim that it was the employer of the disputed employees. PERC's Director of Representation decided that "in the absence of [contrary] presentation by the County, [the judiciary] exercises substantial control over the labor relations affecting the employees in question," and therefore dismissed the objection to the consent agreement for a representation election. Following further submissions, PERC decided to grant the County's request for reconsideration and again allowed the parties to submit further position papers. Each side then did so.

The Commission, at its meeting of March 9, 1982, rendered a decision that affirmed the Director's denial of the County's objection to the agreement for a consent election, but based its determination not on the fact that the judiciary was the employer of the disputed employees, but on the grounds that the Commission did not have the authority to consider the claims of the County relative to the judiciary. Its decision went on to

state that while it was without the authority to adjudicate the County's claim contesting the judiciary's assertion that it is the public employer of the employees in question, it would afford the judiciary the use of its representation mechanisms. The County contended that there was an essential unfairness in the Commission stating that it did not have jurisdiction to hear the County's objection to the status of affected employees while nonetheless accommodating the claims of the judiciary without affording the County the right to challenge any of the judiciary's factual assertions.

The County of Passaic filed a notice of appeal with the Appellate Division. We directly certified the cause, 93 N.J. 285 (1983), and stayed the representation proceedings. While the outlines of resolution of the jurisdictional issue emerge in some detail from our prior precedent, the underlying and more fundamental issues of the proper accommodation of judicial labor relations with the competing concerns of county government raise matters of broad import that we must continue to address.

I.

The Final Report of the Supreme Court Committee on Efficiency in the Operation of the Courts of New Jersey (1982) (hereinafter referred to as the Efficiency Report) identified, as a critical element impeding the quest for an efficient court system, the lack of a clearly defined personnel management system for New Jersey's judiciary. The report found as follows:

The Committee on Efficiency has concluded that the most significant obstacle to effective management, and thus to the efficient functioning of the courts, is the absence of centralized control over employees. Presently, control is divided among trial court officials, Department of Civil Service, unions which represent court support employees, and counties. Each group plays a role in determining terms and conditions of employment and how work is to be performed. Thus, the lines of authority over trial court employees are intertwined and often in conflict. While Assignment Judges have responsibility for the efficient functioning of the courts, they lack authority and control over employees. [ Efficiency Report at 37.]

This case is but an illustration of the complexities of judicial management structure outlined in that report. Key recommendations of the Efficiency Report include the strengthening of the position of the assignment judge by providing a clear definition of the management responsibilities at the trial level and defining a strong supervisory role for the assignment judge with respect to the performance of court-related functions of the County Clerk's office. Id. at 104-05. To effectuate these goals the Efficiency Report urged, among other things, that the court should create trial court system employee negotiating units in those cases in which these judicial employees are among other unionized employees unrelated to the courts. Id. at 113. The purpose was stated to be to negotiate with unions that represent court system-related employees so that the special needs of trial court system employment can be accommodated. The report concluded that "[t]he single most important finding of the Committee on Efficiency is that people, whose costs are the predominant portion of Trial Court System costs, are not being managed effectively from a systemwide viewpoint." Id. at 116.

In implementing the basic management issues outlined in the Efficiency Report, we have identified but not resolved the extremely subtle and complex problems involved in organizing a system of judicial personnel management and labor relations. The 1982 Report to the Judicial Conference on Probation, Strategies for the Future: A Blueprint for Change (June 25, 1982) included in its recommendations a commentary that "[t]he Judiciary needs to gain control over both its administrative functions and its personnel if it is to assure that whatever policies and operational standards emerge from its mission ...


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