On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County.
Approved for Publication January 21, 1997.
Before Judges Dreier and Newman. The opinion of the court was delivered by Dreier, P.j.a.d.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dreier
The opinion of the court was delivered by
Plaintiff, Rose Squeo, appeals from a summary judgment dismissing her Verified Complaint in Lieu of Prerogative Writs by which she had sought an order requiring her reappointment as the Deputy Court Administrator of the Carlstadt Municipal Court, as well as compensatory and punitive damages and attorney's fees and court costs. Defendants are the Borough of Carlstadt and the members of the Borough Council.
Plaintiff was appointed Deputy Municipal Court Clerk of the Carlstadt Municipal Court, a full-time job, on January 1, 1990. She was elevated from the part-time job of docket clerk, which she had held since 1986. In 1994, under N.J.S.A. 2B:12-1, plaintiff's title was changed to Deputy Court Administrator. Her duties remained the same, and were solely related to the functioning of the court. *fn1 According to R. 1:17-1(h), plaintiff, as a "person employed or regularly assigned to a municipal court," was prohibited from "engaging in partisan political activity." Plaintiff completed a State course in municipal court administration and was bonded as a municipal court employee. She claims that she performed her duties well and without complaint from her superiors.
The job of "Deputy Municipal Court Clerk" in Carlstadt was established by Borough ordinance in 1975. That ordinance stated:
There shall be a deputy clerk of the municipal court, who shall be appointed by the mayor, with the advice and consent of the council, for a term of one year commencing January 1 of the year in which he is appointed. He shall perform the functions assigned to him by the municipal Judge and by the municipal court clerk.
Plaintiff alleges there was an understanding among the borough employees that the annual appointment process was a mere formality.
Plaintiff is a registered Democrat. Before becoming a part-time docket clerk, she "had occasionally served as a board worker at general elections within the Borough of Carlstadt as a result of [her] association with the local Democratic Party." However, since she began working as docket clerk in 1986, she had not participated in any political activities.
On January 1, 1995, the Mayor and Council held the annual reorganization meeting. There, the then-Mayor nominated plaintiff for reappointment. Defendants, all Republicans, objected to the nomination of plaintiff and two other people. Plaintiff's nomination was then held over for a thirty day period. On February 2, 1995, the Mayor and Council again met. Defendants again opposed plaintiff's reappointment, with the vote being 5-1 against her reappointment. Her employment was terminated, effective March 3, 1995, and another person was appointed to replace plaintiff.
During the February 2, 1995 meeting, defendants are alleged to have indicated publicly that they did not want to reappoint plaintiff because she was a Democrat. Defendant Davis said that the job was "a political appointment," apparently indicating they could replace plaintiff if they so desired. Defendant Roseman said there was a "problem" with plaintiff. At that meeting, however, the council decided to keep plaintiff on for thirty days to take the place of a sick employee.
The next day, the municipal court administrator told defendant Davis that she was upset by plaintiff's non-reappointment. Defendant Davis replied that the reasons for ...