The 2,000th Post on This Blog: The Anniversary of Campbell v. Department of Civil Service

On this date in 1963, the Supreme Court decided Campbell v. Department of Civil Service, 39 N.J. 556 (1963). The opinion, by Justice Jacob s for a unanimous Court, has been cited hundreds of times for the standard of review in Civil Service Commission matters; “ordinarily, we will not upset a determination by the Commission in the absence of a showing that it was arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable, or that it lacked fair support in the evidence, or that it violated legislative policies expressed or implicit in the civil service act.”

Bernard Campbell had served as a deputy director of compensation, a title that had changed to “judge of compensation” by the time this case reached the Supreme Court. He was removable from that position only for cause. Civil service rules stated that “cause” could include “incompetency or inefficiency in the service or incapacity due to mental or physical disability,” as well as such inefficiency in his performance that his service rating in accordance with the rules was less than 70%. “Cause” could also include other things not expressly enumerated.

Campbell received poor rating for two consecutive ratings periods. He was advised that he was being suspended from his position and that there would be hearing as to whether he should be dismissed from the job entirely. At the hearing, “the service ratings were presented and testimony was introduced in support of ten specific charges of incompetency and inefficiency.” There were additional charges related to the fact that, during his suspension, i during the pendency of his hearing, ncludingCampbell handled matters before the very agency from which he was suspended as a director.

Justice Jacobs described in elaborate detail the substance of the ten charges, a discussion worth reading in full to see just how many wrong things a judge could do. Among other things, Campbell failed to make a record of his disposition of certain cases, so that the Department had to contact an insurance company litigant to find out the results. He rendered an award of 1/2% in a case of a Black petitioner, and when questioned about that unusual percentage said that he had done that because the petitioner deserved zero, but Campbell did not want him to feel discriminated against. In other cases, Campbell considered the possibility of reversal of an award in setting the award amount, saying that it did no one much good if a proper (presumably higher) award were given and were reversed on appeal. The Commission determined from that and the case of the Black petitioner that Campbell’s awards were improperly based on “reasons other than the amount of disability proven.”

Campbell also repeatedly refused to follow applicable law. He rejected the preponderance of the evidence standard that governed hearings, and he dismissed a claim based on his finding that the petitioner had been “willfully negligent” (itself something of an oxymoron) even though, as Justice Jacobs said, “[n]egligence is not a defense to a petition for workmen’s compensation.” Even at his hearing, Campbell persisted in refusing to acknowledge that negligence was not a defense, showing “a lack of knowledge of the basic concepts of the Workmen’s Compensation Law.”

In another instance, the Burkley case, Campbell told counsel to “sit down and shut up,” engaged in an off the record discussion with a witness, harassed counsel and witnesses, and “otherwise disregard elemental guideposts” contained in the canons of judicial ethics that applied to the judicial process. His conduct was so outrageous that a judge on appeal issued “severe criticism” and ruled that Campbell had deprived the petitioner of a full, fair, and impartial hearing.

The Commission voted to remove Campbell from his position based on a combination of his poor ratings, his conduct in the Burkley case, and his action in representing parties to hearings during his suspension. The Supreme Court affirmed that decision and rejected various procedural challenges asserted by Campbell. The Court was especially critical of Campbell’s performance in Burkley, and found took “a serious view” of Campbell’s representing petitioners “before the Division of which he was still a member,” despite his suspension.

This is the 2,000th post on this blog. The Campbell case is a landmark, a fitting subject fora milestone post.