On appeal from Superior Court, Law Division, Middlesex County.
The Township of Old Bridge (Township) appeals from the determination of the Law Division which permanently restrained disciplinary proceedings against plaintiff Jerry Palumbo in connection with an alleged solicitation and acceptance of a gratuity (tickets to the race track) from a business in the municipality. The judge below also ordered Palumbo restored to his position as chief of police.
On its appeal the Township argues that the judge erred in concluding that the Township and the individual defendants had not timely served and filed their statement of charges as required by N.J.S.A. 40A:14-147. The Township also contends that there was error in the imposition of restraints since there is no irreparable injury. In addition, it argues that it was improper to give what defendants describe as "retroactive effect" to the amendment to N.J.S.A. 40A:14-147 by L. 1988, c. 145, which took effect on November 1, 1988.
On July 5, 1988 Palumbo allegedly accepted a block of tickets to Raceway Park in the Township of Old Bridge for the 1988 "Summer Nationals" of stock car racing. This action was viewed by some municipal officials as a possible violation of the police department rules and regulations, and possibly Township ordinances, and they referred the matter to the Middlesex
County Prosecutor's Office for investigation. According to Palumbo, for the last 20 years race track officials had given tickets to the mayor and council, both political parties in the municipality, and the Policemen's Benevolent Association. Apparently, the practice had previously been the subject of an investigation by defendant Joseph P. Leo, the Business Administrator of the Township, and the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office.
The Township took no action concerning the allegations pending an investigation by the prosecutor's office. The Township attorney met with Third Assistant Prosecutor West on May 2, 1989 concerning the status of the Palumbo investigation. At that time he was told by West that the prosecutor's office would not proceed further. Nevertheless, on June 7, 1989 the Township attorney wrote a letter to Middlesex County Prosecutor Rockoff in which he expressly referred to the meeting of May 2, 1989 and the fact that he had been advised by West that the matter was not going to proceed further. The Township attorney requested that the matter be brought to the personal attention of the prosecutor and requested written confirmation because of the time limitation in N.J.S.A. 40A:14-147. Prosecutor Rockoff's letter response dated June 8, 1989 was essentially non-responsive as a confirmation. Rather, it stated:
Pursuant to our telephone conversation that resulted from receipt of your letter of June 7, 1989, please be advised that this department will await the outcome of any action that the Township of Old Bridge deems appropriate under its local Ordinances, Rules and Regulations to examine the involvement of Police Chief Jerry Palumbo and others with the Raceway Park officials who operate the drag race track in your municipality.
If the Township intends to hold hearings or investigate the activities of the aforementioned individuals and others to determine whether any violation of local laws have occurred, please retain all transcripts and provide this department with prior notice of all hearings so that we may determine whether our presence as observers is required.
Thank you for alerting me to the Township's officials' concern.
Copies of this letter were sent to Assistant Prosecutor West, Mayor Haney, Leo, and defense ...