On appeal from the Final Administrative Determination of the Board of Trustees of the Public Employees' Retirement System.
Pressler, Long and Gruccio. The opinion of the court was delivered by Pressler, P.J.A.D.
In this public-employee pension case, petitioner, William J. Rokos, Jr., appeals from the determination of the Public Employees' Retirement System (PERS) that the salary he was paid for his service as presiding judge of the municipal courts of Union County during calendar year 1986 does not constitute creditable compensation for pension purposes. We reverse.
There is no dispute of fact. In 1985, after two years of studying the municipal court system of this State, the Supreme Court Task Force on the Improvement of Municipal Courts, chaired by Associate Justice Robert L. Clifford, issued its report in which, among other proposals, it recommended the creation of the office of presiding judge of the municipal courts
and the designation by the Chief Justice, with the advice of the Assignment Judge, of one such presiding judge, for each of the State's fifteen vicinages. The presiding judge, to be appointed from among the municipal court judges sitting in the vicinage and required to report directly to the Assignment Judge of the vicinage, was envisioned by the report as performing supervisory, managerial, administrative and coordinating functions within the vicinage in a manner generally akin to the function of the presiding judges of the various functional units of the Superior Court. See R. 1:33-6. The report further recommended that the municipal court presiding judges, in addition to performing the judicial duties regularly incident to their individual municipal judgeships, also perform, on specific assignment, those vicinage-wide judicial duties involving matters in which uniformity of approach and consistency of result are particularly desirable, including, illustratively, reviewing all County Prosecutor recommendations on downgrading or remanding to a municipal court, hearing all applications for bail and for temporary commitment, reviewing the jail population on a continuing basis, and expediting the processing of municipal court matters accompanying indictable cases. Finally, the report proposed that the duties of the presiding judges be performed either full or part-time depending on the vicinage's needs and that the compensation for their service be provided out of State funds, including "all benefits and pensions attendant to their status as State-funded judges." This, of course, was to be in addition to their salaries as municipal court judges, which are paid by the appointing municipal unit.
Upon its review of the Task Force report, the Supreme Court elected to institute a presiding-judge pilot project in four vicinages, Camden, Mercer, Union and Atlantic/Cape May, and by order entered on December 23, 1985, it "supplemented and relaxed" the Rules of Court to "permit the establishment" of such a project "pursuant to guidelines to be established by the Administrative Director of the Courts." By order entered January 8, 1986, the Chief Justice appointed a Presiding
Judge -- Municipal Court in each of those four vicinages, the designations "effective January 1, 1986 and [to] * * * terminate December 31, 1986, unless otherwise ordered." The original designee for the Union County vicinage was petitioner Rokos, then sitting as municipal court judge in both Roselle and Roselle Park. The life of the pilot project was in fact extended by a series of subsequent orders of the Supreme Court entered on November 10, 1986, June 23, 1987, May 2, 1988, and most recently, June 27, 1989, which extends the project in the same four vicinages until December 31, 1989. Two of the originally appointed presiding judges, those for the Atlantic/Cape May and Camden vicinages, have continued to serve since the inception of the project by companion orders which have respectively "extended" their "designations" congruently with the extension of the project.
The question of the precise manner in which the presiding judges would be paid and the amount of their compensation had been dealt with by the Supreme Court and the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) prior to the January 1 inception of the program and the making of the original appointments. There were evidently some mechanical problems in arranging for the state funding of these presiding-judge appointments since municipal court judges, as was recognized by the Task Force in its report, are not State employees for payroll purposes but are rather, for those purposes, employees of the appointing municipal unit. Moreover, although the designated presiding judge was required by way of qualification to be a sitting municipal court judge, it was obviously inappropriate for the "employing" municipality to bear the financial onus of the presiding-judge function since the judge, in performing that function, would be serving the entire vicinage at the behest of, responsible to, and in a manner ultimately prescribed and controlled by the Supreme Court and its support agencies. Accommodation of all of these considerations was reached by agreement of each of the "employing" municipalities in the four vicinages to the AOC proposal that the presiding judge would
initially submit his voucher for per diem compensation*fn1 to the "employing" municipality and that the municipality would add the required compensation to the judge's regular salary check and would also bear the responsibility for social security and PERS contributions and deductions for the entire amount. The municipality would in turn be reimbursed periodically by the AOC out of State funds in its control by way of the mechanism of a "grant" application.
Petitioner Rokos, whose presiding-judge designation was effective January 1, 1986, then undertook the duties of that office, devoting thereto three days a week independent of his municipal judgeship duties, which he performed on the other two days of the week. According to the voluminous documents of record, he performed during calendar year 1986 a wide variety of both administrative and extra-municipal judicial duties under the direction and supervision of the Assignment Judge ...