A New Jersey State Bar Association officer passed over for advancement on the ladder to the presidency is mounting an insurrection campaign.
Thomas Prol, the State Bar’s elected secretary, announced Wednesday that he is collecting signatures on a petition to run for the post of second vice president, a notch above the treasurer post for which he was denied a nomination.
And he will be running in a wide-open field. The Bar announced Friday that its Nominating Committee will not pick a replacement for Angela Dalton, its original endorsed candidate for second vice president, who is off the slate now that she has been appointed a Superior Court judge.
Instead, the Bar will accept petitions from any hopefuls who can amass 250 signatures from members by March 18.
The Bar’s action on Friday further shook up the usually staid process by which officers rise through the ranks in lockstep from secretary to president over a six-year period. The Nominating Committee’s choice for the secretary job is rarely challenged, and almost never successfully. And a run by an outsider for a higher-level position is unheard of.
But with no officially endorsed candidate opposing him, Prol, with his long record of service to the Bar, including a year on the Executive Committee, and enjoying support in the Young Lawyers’ Division and other groups,  might turn out to be — instead of a dark horse — the virtual insider candidate for the second-vice-president spot.
“I think today’s decision is the right decision,” Prol said Friday. “I think it’s good for the organization.” He adds that his petition is almost ready to be filed.
On Feb. 4, the Nominating Committee announced that it denied Prol its endorsement because he had left his New Jersey firm and had taken a job with a New York City agency that required him to live within city limits.
Committee chairman John Eastlack Jr. said “it was felt that with his recent full-time out-of-state legal employment, and given his now out-of-state residency, Mr. Prol could not continue to represent the organization’s membership as an NJSBA officer.”
The committee gave Robert Hille, of McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter in Morristown, its nod for the treasurer job in 2013-14.
Prol, who advanced to the treasurer’s post automatically when Dalton resigned, says he chose to run for the second vice president post, rather than oppose Hille, to “avoid picking a fight.”
“[Dalton’s] position is now my position. I am now treasurer. I chose not to challenge Bob. … This was the least divisive procedure to get where I would like to be. It’s something that hopefully will reset the clock and not upset anyone.”
Prol has criticized the decision to deny him renomination based on his job as associate general counsel and agency chief contracting officer in New York’s Division of Consumer Affairs. He says he received permission from his new employer to continue his private practice, and his law office in Sussex County remains open. He took the New York job in July, three months after leaving a position with Cleary, Giacobbe, Alfieri & Jacobs in Matawan.
Some bar groups were angered by the association’s selection of Hille over Prol. In Prol’s home county, the Sussex County Bar Association, in a Feb. 13 letter to the trustees, called Prol’s ouster “unjust” and asked for the Nominating Committee’s action to be reversed. The Sussex Bar said the Nominating Committee “appears to have selectively stated Mr. Prol’s credentials to suggest he is only involved in legal practice in another state when our collective members know Tom to be a local, hardworking attorney who stands up for the issues important to our organization.”
Jeffrey Neu, the chairman-elect of the State Bar’s Young Lawyers Division, said the Nominating Committee’s rejection of Prol had angered his group.
In a Feb. 13 letter, the State Bar’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Section, which Prol co-founded, called the decision not to renominate him “an offensive rebuke,” adding that the action “has fractured our section’s belief that the NJSBA is seriously and substantively committed to inclusiveness and diversity in its leadership.”
The LGBT section asked the trustees to return Prol to the executive committee and called for an “independent investigation” into the Nominating Committee’s actions. Prol is the first openly gay officer on the Executive Committee.
State Bar Association President Kevin McCann says the trustees will not intrude on the Nominating Committee’s decision regarding Prol.
“The Nominating Committee has spoken. Their word is sacrosanct, or should be sacrosanct, as far as I’m concerned,” McCann says, declining to give his opinion about whether association officers should live or work in the state.
The Bar also announced Friday that the Nominating Committee will not select a replacement for Mitzy Galis-Menendez, whom it had endorsed for the post of at-large trustee and who also was confirmed for a state judgeship this month. Any member who collects 100 signatures on a petition can run for it.
The last successful challenge to a Nominating Committee-backed candidate was in 1993, when Joseph Bottitta received 53 percent of the vote to Raymond Londa’s 47 percent. Bottitta, who called for greater involvement by women, minorities and younger lawyers in the bar’s leadership, won the endorsement of the Essex County Bar Association and the Young Lawyers Division, as well as the Garden State Bar Association and the Asian Pacific American Lawyers Association.