Morris Pashman (September 27, 1912 – October 3, 1999) was an American Republican Party politician and attorney who served as Mayor of Passaic, New Jersey before spending 23 years as a judge, 10 of them on the New Jersey Supreme Court. On the state's highest court, he ruled the book Fanny Hill obscene and banned its publishing in the state, issued rulings in two major murder cases, advocated for the equal citizenship rights of the mentally handicapped and was one of the few dissenting votes objecting to the jailing of a reporter who refused to turn over his notes in a murder case.
Early life and career
After spending time in private practice, Pashman was named in 1946 to serve in Passaic on its police court, and later on its municipal court. Elected Mayor of Passaic in 1951, he served until 1955 and then served as city commissioner and director of revenue and finance.
After two years on Passaic County Court, Governor of New Jersey Robert B. Meyner appointed him to New Jersey Superior Court in 1961. He became the assignment judge for Passaic County in 1965 and for Bergen County in 1966.
In a 1964 decision, Pashman upheld Bergen County prosecutor Guy W. Calissi's decision to ban the sale of the John Cleland book Fanny Hill in New Jersey, calling the book "sufficiently obscene to forfeit the protection of the First Amendment of the Constitution." In addition to failing tests of "social value," "prurient interest" and "patently offensive," Pashman ruled that Fanny Hill failed the "hard-core pornography test," noting that the "book may be well-written but still obscene." The decision was overturned, and Pashman would later call his actions in the case an "aberration," saying that "I think every judge or justice is entitled to one."
In a 1966 ruling in a case filed by the Passaic County Bar Association, Pashman's decision stated that the Passaic County Board of Chosen Freeholders was obligated to replace the county courthouse due to inadequate conditions in the building. A new building was constructed within four years of the order.
In a 1971 case, Pashman agreed to a plea bargain that would allow Edgar Smith to go free based on time served. Smith had been convicted of the 1957 murder of a 15-year-old cheerleader and assessed the death sentence, but the prosecutor later disclosed that critical evidence in the case was no longer available and agreed to allow Smith to plead guilty to second-degree murder, fearing that Smith would be able to claim false imprisonment.
New Jersey Supreme Court
In the 1978 "Dr. X" murder trial of Mario Jascalevich, Judge Theodore Trautwein had ordered that reporter M. A. Farber of The New York Times be sent to jail for refusing to turn over notes to the defense attorney. When Farber was about to be jailed, his attorneys filed for an emergency stay on a weekend and Pashman arrived in his golfing attire to grant the stay. When the full court heard the case the next day, Pashman was the only dissenter as the court upheld the lower court ruling and ordered that Farber serve time in jail. When the court reaffirmed the lower court action in a decision in September 1978, Pashman and fellow Justice Alan B. Handler were the only dissenters.
In another 1978 case, this on challenging New Jersey's Blue Laws, the court ruled 5–2 to uphold the laws then in effect in 10 of the state's 21 counties restricting sales of certain products on Sundays. Handler and Pashman were the only dissenters, with Pashman saying that the law fails the too-frequently ignored "test of common sense" and that it improperly grants government the right to tell people what to do "for their own good."
Pashman reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 1982.
- Honan, William H. "Morris Pashman, 87, Champion of Free Speech on New Jersey's Highest Court", The New York Times, October 10, 1999. Accessed October 19, 2009.
- Young, Elise. "Morris Pashman, Influential Jurist, Dies at 87; Tireless Worker Shaped Decisions in Key N.J. Cases.", The Record (Bergen County), October 4, 1999. Accessed October 19, 2009.
- Waggoner, Walter H. "Fanny Hill' Sale Banned in Jersey; Judge Rules Its Obscenity 'Forfeits' Protection", The New York Times, December 8, 1964. Accessed October 20, 2009.
- Sullivan, Ronald. "Cahill Names Two Justices And Supreme Court Chief; Nominees Praised 2 Meyner Nominees", The New York Times, April 19, 1973.
- Waldron, Martin. "Jersey's High Court Upholds Blue Law; Prohibition on Some Sunday Sales in Effect in 10 of 21 Counties.", The New York Times, July 19, 1978.