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Board of Chosen Freeholders of County of Morris v. State

July 20, 1999

BOARD OF CHOSEN FREEHOLDERS OF THE COUNTY OF MORRIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT. BOARD OF CHOSEN FREEHOLDERS OF THE COUNTY OF CAMDEN, PLAINTIFF-INTERVENOR- APPELLANT,
v.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT. BOARD OF CHOSEN FREEHOLDERS OF THE COUNTY OF BERGEN, PLAINTIFF-INTERVENOR- APPELLANT,
v.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.



On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 311 N.J. Super. 587 (1998).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Poritz, C.j.

This appeal raises the question whether the construction and related borrowing costs associated with building, renovating and expanding judicial facilities, hereinafter usually referred to as "capital costs," are to be assumed by the State under a 1992 amendment to the New Jersey Constitution, N.J. Const. art. VI, § VIII, ¶ 1, that governs state funding of the judicial system.

Prior to the amendment, the responsibility for financing the courts was controlled by statute. As enacted in 1991, Title 2B recodified the division of financial responsibility between the State and the twenty- one counties that had been in place for many years. See Law Revision Commission Comment to N.J.S.A. 2B:5-1 (explaining that the new Title 2B "attempt[s] to reflect current law and practice" with respect to responsibility for judicial costs). *fn1 N.J.S.A. 2B:6-1a allocates to the State the costs of physical facilities for the Supreme Court, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court, and the General Equity Part of the Chancery Division of the Superior Court, whereas N.J.S.A. 2B:6-1b requires the various counties to pay for housing the Law Division and the Family Part of the Chancery Division of the Superior Court. We must now determine the impact, if any, of the constitutional amendment on the statutory allocation of fiscal responsibility for judicial facilities between the State and the twenty-one counties.

I.

Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 58 ("SCR-58"), later adopted by the electorate as Article VI, Section VIII, Paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution, was first proposed on May 21, 1992. The purpose of SCR-58 was to require the State to assume greater responsibility for the funding of the judicial system. Toward that end, SCR-58 provided for state assumption of "certain judicial and probation costs" incurred by the counties. Constitutional Amendment--Judicial and Probation Costs-- Transfer from Counties to State, S.C.R. No. 58, ¶ 1a(1), 1992 N.J. Sess. Law Serv. A-3, A-3 (West) (Constitutional Amendment). SCR-58 also included a non-exclusive list of particular items of "judicial costs" to be funded by the State. See id. ¶ 1b(3), at A-4.

As originally proposed, the definition of "judicial costs" in SCR- 58 did not contain an explicit exclusion for "judicial facility costs." On June 8, 1992, the Senate Judiciary Committee amended SCR-58 to "clarify that costs presently borne by the counties with regard to the operation and maintenance of facilities used by the courts and probation departments would not be assumed by the State." Senate Judiciary Comm., Statement to Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 58, at 1 (June 8, 1992). "Judicial facility costs" were then defined as "costs borne by the counties prior to July 1, 1993 with regard to the operation and maintenance of facilities used by the courts or judicial employees," Constitutional Amendment, supra, ¶ 1b(1), at A-3, and excluded from the definition of "judicial costs," id. ¶ 1b(3), at A-4. The Committee did not, however, mention capital costs in its revision, nor did it explain the significance of the "July 1, 1993" date. As revised, SCR-58 provided, in pertinent part:

"1. a. On or before July 1, 1997:

(1) The State shall be required to pay for certain judicial and probation costs;

(2) All judicial employees and probation employees shall be employees of the State; and

(3) Any judicial fees and probation fees collected shall be paid to the State Treasury.

b. As used in this section:

(1) "Judicial facility costs" means any costs borne by the counties prior to July 1, 1993 with regard to the operation and maintenance of facilities used by the courts or judicial employees;"

"(3) "Judicial costs" means the costs incurred by the county for funding the judicial system, including but not limited to the following costs: salaries, health benefits and pension payments of all judicial employees, juror fees and library material costs, except that judicial costs shall not include costs incurred by employees of the surrogate's office or judicial facility costs[.]" [Id. ¶ 1, at A-3 - A-4.]

On June 15, 1992, the Committee held a public hearing on SCR-58. Chief Justice Robert N. Wilentz submitted a Statement in support, Public Hearing Before the Senate Judiciary Comm. on Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 58, June 15, 1992, at 70-81 (Wilentz Statement), as did the New Jersey State Bar Association ("NJSBA"), id. at 82-86 (NJSBA Statement). Both Statements praised the amendment as a critical step in the administration of "equal Justice" for the people of New Jersey. Wilentz Statement, supra, at 78; see also NJSBA Statement, supra, at 83. In the words of Chief Justice Wilentz:

"As far as I am concerned the greatest benefit of this constitutional amendment is its promise of giving us a truly well managed judiciary for the benefit of our citizens. It will give them better Justice.

This constitutional amendment will also bring about other substantial improvements. The judiciary will become fully accountable, it will no longer be uncertain, both internally and in its relation to others to whom it should be accountable, including you, why its costs in one vicinage far exceed those in others, why its productivity in one vicinage falls far short of what it is in others, why in one vicinage we need twenty people per Judge while in another we need only ten. The answer today is impossibly indefinite, ambiguous, uncertain, all ...


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