Municipal Court May Not Assess Penalty to Fire Bugs – State v. O’Connor

The Committee on Opinions has approved the publication of the Municipal Court Judge’s decision in State v. O’Connor. In this matter, the defendants were charged in municipal court with violating the provisions of the New Jersey Administrative Code related to starting or maintaining open fires in a forest without a permit. The Law Division ruled that the municipal court is without jurisdiction to decide these types of cases and asses penalties. Instead, the court’s only function is to collect penalties of less than $5000 that have been administratively assessed by the Department of Environmental Protection.

Although not cited in the opinion, it is important to note that the lack of the municipal court jurisdiction to assess penalties was recently analyzed by the Appellate Division as well in State v. Tri-Way Kars, 402 N.J. Super. 215 (App. Div. 2008). In Kars, the Court held that the municipal court had no statutory, original jurisdiction to assess penalties under the Consumer Fraud Act, and could only collect and enforce penalties that had been previously assessed by the Attorney General as authorized under the Penalty Enforcement Act.

Download a copy of State v. O’Connor

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