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Karen Brown, Esq v. City of Paterson

February 17, 2012

KAREN BROWN, ESQ., PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
CITY OF PATERSON, A MUNICIPALITY OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, AND JEFFERY J. JONES, AS MAYOR OF THE CITY OF PATERSON, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Passaic County, L-3319-11.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reisner, J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION

Argued January 24, 2012

Before Judges Payne, Reisner and Simonelli.

The opinion of the court was delivered by REISNER, J.A.D.

By leave granted, the City of Paterson appeals from an August 8, 2011 trial court order granting preliminary injunctive relief preventing the City from terminating plaintiff Karen Brown from her position as a municipal court judge pending the outcome of this litigation. Based on the record presented, we conclude that at the time the injunction was granted, plaintiff had demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits, and it was in the public interest to preserve the status quo. We therefore find no abuse of the trial judge's discretion in granting preliminary injunctive relief.*fn1 In so ruling, we note that the case is apparently still at its inception, the parties have taken no discovery, and we imply no view as to how this case should be decided once the trial court record is complete.

I

We begin by considering the applicable statute, which specifically requires a municipality to obtain the approval of the vicinage Assignment Judge before appointing additional temporary or permanent municipal judges:

a. With the written consent of the Assignment Judge of the vicinage, a county or municipality may:

(1) increase the number of judgeships of the municipal court, or

(2) appoint one or more temporary municipal judges.

b. A temporary judge is an additional judge of the municipal court appointed to meet a special need of limited duration. The procedure for appointment of temporary municipal judges shall be the same as that for other municipal judges, but each term of a temporary judge shall not exceed one year.

[N.J.S.A. 2B:12-5.]

N.J.S.A. 2B:12-5 has its origins in N.J.S.A. 2A:8-5a and -5b, which were enacted in 1985 to replace an older system in which a municipality was limited as to the number of judges it could appoint, depending on its population, and legislation was required every time a municipality wished to appoint an additional judge beyond that number. See N.J.S.A. 2A:8-6 to -6.5; Assembly Judiciary Committee Statement to Senate, No. 1902 (November 8, 1984) (noting that "[p]resently if a municipality wishes to increase the number of judges authorized for its municipal court, legislation must be enacted"). The Legislature repealed the population-based system in favor of allowing municipalities to appoint "as the need appears, . . . any additional number of judges," N.J.S.A. 2A:8-5a, provided that "[n]o additional judge shall be appointed . . . without the written consent of the assignment judge of the vicinage." N.J.S.A. 2A:8-5b; see L. 1985, c. 46.*fn2 In 1993, the Legislature adopted a comprehensive revision to the statutes governing the municipal courts, codified in Title 2B. See L. 1993, c. 293. That revision included N.J.S.A. 2B:12-5, which retained the requirement that the Assignment Judges approve the appointment of additional municipal judges.

After the passage of the 1993 statute, Paterson adopted a 1995 ordinance continuing its municipal court and authorizing the appointment of five municipal judges, one of whom is the presiding judge. City Code ยง 25-2B. The ordinance also permits the Mayor and the Municipal Council to appoint temporary additional judges "to meet a special need of limited ...


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