On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Gloucester, L-108-00, and Salem Counties, L-1638-00.
Before Judges Keefe, Eichen and Weissbard.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Keefe, P.J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE COMMITTEE ON OPINIONS
Submitted (A-005780-99T1): April 25, 2001
The issue presented in these two cases, which we have consolidated for the purpose of this opinion, is whether a candidate for public office is entitled to use a professional title preceding the candidate's name on the ballot. The issue is one of first impression in this State.*fn1 The Law Division judges in each case ruled that the County Clerks of Salem and Gloucester Counties abused their discretion in refusing to permit the candidates to use their professional titles. We reverse the judgments under review.
Richard Sooy, Jr., and Warren S. Wallace were candidates for elected office. Sooy sought the elected office of Board of Education member for Pennsville Township in Salem County, and Wallace sought the elected office of Freeholder in Gloucester County. Sooy is a podiatrist, while Wallace has a Ph.D. degree. Both use the professional tile "Dr." preceding their names.
Sooy and Wallace requested the County Clerks of their respective counties to insert "Dr." preceding their names on the election ballots. In each case, the County Clerks denied the requests, taking the position that a professional title was not a part of a candidate's "name" in the context of N.J.S.A. 19:14-2. Sooy and Wallace filed separate complaints and orders to show cause in the Law Division. In each case, the trial court reversed the decisions of the County Clerks and compelled them to place "Dr." on the ballots preceding the candidates' names.
In the Sooy matter, the trial judge agreed with the Salem County Clerk that "Dr." is not the "plaintiff's name" and found that his name is "Richard Sooy, Jr." The judge acknowledged that the title of doctor resulted from Sooy's "training and his profession." Nonetheless, the judge overruled the County Clerk's decision, giving the following reason:
Inasmuch as I am made to believe that people have been able to have their names appear on . . . the ballot when they're candidates, under the names by which they're popularly known, and there's nothing before me to indicate that Dr. Sooy is not popularly known by the indication of Dr. Richard Sooy, then if a person is entitled to have a popularly known name entered on the ballot and it occurs, then a person who is known by his professional name is entitled as well. . . .
And on that basis, I am going to issue the order provided that Dr. Sooy underwrites the cost of altering the ballot, accordingly. I note that neither of [the] counsel were able to provide me any citations, probably because there are none other than the Law Division case of 1971, which prohibited such use.
In the Wallace matter, the trial judge acknowledged the absence of statutory or case law authority in this State that either "allow[s] or disallow[s] the use of a title, such as doctor, on a ballot." Nonetheless, the judge overruled the Gloucester County Clerk. The essence of the judge's reason for doing so follows:
News articles have been appended to the moving papers showing that he is commonly referred to in his political activities as Dr. Warren Wallace. His business card shows that he uses that title, Dr. Warren Wallace, and that is the name by which he is commonly known and it is, therefore, part of his persona and part of his identity.
Any suggestion that there would be a misleading of the voters, I believe, is belied by that fact. Each of these cases must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
When looking at the case-by-case determinations that have been made as examples and illustrations, we find that within this very county, this very candidate, Dr. Wallace, on three prior occasions has had his name printed on the ballot as Dr. Warren Wallace. The ballot, approved by the County ...