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Thursday, July 25, 2024


Win or Lose, County May Try to Change Bigley 5.17.2006

By Rick Racela

COURT HOUSE – Why should an appointed judge be able to tell elected freeholders to spend more taxpayers’ money on the office of an appointed prosecutor?
Because of a lawsuit and resulting legislation that goes all the way back to 1874.
But, win or lose its current conflict with Prosecutor Robert Taylor, Cape May County is expected to seek legislative changes to that procedure, county Administrator Steve O’Connor told this newspaper.
“We oppose the whole concept of a nonelected official being able to increase spending and taxes,” he said.
In Lewis v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of Hudson County in 1874, the court held the county was “morally obliged to pay expenses incurred by the prosecutor in discharging his duty.”
The state Legislature made it law the same year, and that has survived through numerous appeals, revisions and challenges.
It got its Bigley name in 1969 when Camden County Prosecutor A. Donald Bigley sought more staff and money from the freeholders and the court held that “the Assignment Judge for the county continues to have the final and conclusive authority to approve expenditures beyond the appropriations.”
That went to the state Supreme Court, which upheld Bigley, and said that the assignment judge was acting “as a legislative agent rather than as a judicial officer. He does not sit in  review of the action or inaction of the freeholders but rather makes his own original determination.”
O’Connor said he expects this county to consider two legislative options: “Get rid of the whole statute, or amend it to say any time a prosecutor takes Bigley action and is successful, the state would be required to pay any amount over what the county appropriated.
“That’s the same way the prosecutor is paid,” noted O’Connor. “The county pays $100,000 and the state pays the difference, or $41,000.  It’s the same concept.”
 Taylor defended Bigley as a “necessary relief” if freeholders attempt to control the prosecutor by limiting his budget.
 “In the old days,” said Taylor, “there could be one prosecutor and two detectives and the freeholders would be winking their eye to booze or something. So the Legislature came up with the prosecutor is supposed to be independent.
“Say I wanted to investigate corruption,” suggested Taylor, “and I requested hiring an assistant and they could say the heck with you.”
O’Connor said the South Jersey Freeholders Association has already discussed “challenging the court’s authority” in the wake of last year’s Bigley action in Cumberland County.
Cumberland County freeholders took a huge hit, agreeing to provide the prosecutor with additional staff, increased pay, more vehicles, computers, etc. and more temporary and permanent office space, much of that stretched out over a five-year period.
Such negotiations prior to going to court are normal. That’s because the assignment judge can only rule on the current fiscal  year and counties, concerned at the prospect of one large settlement affecting one budget, try to make a deal that spreads the impact over several years.
In this case, Taylor and the freeholders on the eve of going to court agreed on three new investigators, one assistant prosecutor and two part-time secretaries this year and an independent study to review additional staffing.
On Taylor’s request for additional office space, both agreed the county would have a “facilities assessment” and Acting Assignment Judge William Todd would review the results. The cost of providing additional space would appear in future budgets.
Contact Zelnik at (609) 886-8600 Ext. 27 or:

Spout Off

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