On appeal from the Superior Court, Appellate Division.
For reversal -- Chief Justice Wilentz, and Justices Clifford, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern, Garibaldi and Stein. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Garibaldi, J.
[108 NJ Page 36] In this appeal we must decide whether the plaintiffs, who are the subjects of an investigation by the State Commission of Investigation (SCI), may sue for an injunction to enforce the confidentiality obligations imposed on the SCI by N.J.S.A. 52:9M-15(a). The statute provides that unauthorized disclosure of information that the SCI obtains in the course of its investigations
is a crime. The plaintiffs contend that SCI employees have disclosed information about them in contravention of N.J.S.A. 52:9M-15(a); that these disclosures have interfered with their business relationships; and that an injunction is necessary to protect the plaintiffs from further unauthorized disclosures. However, in view of the statutory context of N.J.S.A. 52:9M-15(a) and in particular N.J.S.A. 52:9M-8, which anticipates that the Attorney General will control the unauthorized disclosure of information obtained in the course of SCI investigations, we conclude that the equitable relief that the plaintiffs seek is neither proper nor necessary.
In 1968, a Special Joint Legislative Committee to Study Crime and the System of Criminal Justice in New Jersey*fn1 recommended the creation of a State Commission of Investigation that would function "as a watchdog of the entire system itself and [of] special problems such as organized crime and official corruption." Report of Joint Legislative Committee to Study Crime and the System of Criminal Justice in New Jersey at 4 (1968). In response, the Legislature created the SCI. L. 1968, c. 266 (codified at N.J.S.A. 52:9M-1 to -19). The SCI has the "duty and power to conduct investigations in connection with," inter alia, the "faithful execution and effective enforcement of the laws of the State, with particular reference but not limited to organized crime and racketeering." N.J.S.A. 52:9M-2(a). The SCI must advise the Governor, the Legislature, and the public about the results of its investigatory activities. See N.J.S.A. 52:9M-4.2, -4.3, -11. See generally Cali v. New Jersey State Comm'n of Investigation, 63 N.J. 310, 312 (1973); Zicarelli v. New Jersey State Comm'n of Investigation, 55 N.J. 249, 261
(1970), aff'd, 406 U.S. 472, 92 S. Ct. 1670, 32 L. Ed. 2d 234 (1972) (noting that the SCI was created "to discover and to publicize the state of affairs in the criminal area, to the end that helpful legislation may be proposed and receive needed public support").
The SCI also must advise its witnesses about the nature and scope of the investigations pursuant to which they are called. "A witness before the Commission is entitled to have in advance of his testimony a statement of the subject matter on which the Commission intends to examine him. This advance notice of the subject of the inquiry will provide a background and context that will aid a witness in determining what information the questions seek." Zicarelli, supra, 406 U.S. at 477, 92 S. Ct. at 1674, 32 L. Ed. 2d at 239 (footnote omitted); see N.J.S.A. 52:9M-12(a) (requiring SCI to furnish all witnesses with a general statement of the subject of the investigation and to comply whenever a witness requests a copy of the resolution or other provision of law authorizing the investigation); see also In re Manna, 124 N.J. Super. 428, 439 (App.Div.) (failure to inform witness adequately about scope of SCI inquiry would violate due process), certif. denied, 64 N.J. 158 (1973).
Even as the SCI has a duty to publicize the results of investigations and to advise witnesses why their testimony is sought, SCI personnel are obligated to keep the information that they learn in the course of an investigation confidential. Indeed, N.J.S.A. 52:9M-15(a) makes it a crime to "disclose other than as authorized or required by law, to any person other than the commission or an officer having the power to appoint one or more of the commissioners,*fn2 the name of any witness examined, or any information obtained [in the course of an SCI investigation], except as directed by the Governor or Commission. . . ."*fn3
The plaintiffs contend that employees of the SCI have breached their statutory duty of confidentiality. Their complaint alleges that the SCI has wrongfully informed many of their business associates that the plaintiffs are the subject of an investigation into organized crime and racketeering in the garment trucking and garment warehousing industries in New Jersey. Specifically, the complaint alleges that the SCI has gratuitously incorporated the language of the Resolution that established the investigation at issue here into the subpoenas that it has served -- both within New Jersey and out-of-State*fn4 -- on the plaintiffs' accountants, suppliers, customers, and employers. That Resolution explains that the SCI is investigating "organized crime and racketeering" in the garment warehousing and garment trucking industries. Plaintiffs contend that the reference to organized crime in the subpoenas is unnecessary, unfair, and harmful to their business.
The complaint also alleges that SCI agents have suggested to several of the plaintiffs' out-of-state ...