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If judicial temperament is defined as a calm, contemplative disposition, don’t look for it in Roberto Rivera-Soto.

The most recent New Jersey Supreme Court nominee is anything but laid back. He is an adventurer – a free-spirited motorcycle enthusiast and licensed private pilot who’s hopped around three states in his quarter-century of practice; a forceful and voluble litigator who’s been just as willing to take risks in his professional career as in his personal life.

On the other hand, his Fox Rothschild colleagues say, that zest for living manifests itself in a passion for the law, one that will translate well into judicature.

“As someone who has worked closely with him and known him for a long time, I can say that he would bring to the Supreme Court a broad range of interests and a tremendous level of creativity,” said managing partner Abraham Reich.

“Roberto Rivera-Soto is in love with the law,” added partner Jonathan Weiner. “He loves the process and the substance of law, and that quality will place him smack dab in the middle of that court.” (Weiner ought to know: He’s married to another Supreme Court justice, Virginia Long.)

Last week’s announcement of Rivera-Soto’s intended nomination was quickly awash in analysis of his political amalgam. He’s a Republican, which is needed to keep the court’s 4-3 balance. But he’s not overtly political and is more likely to donate to Democratic candidates (including Gov. James McGreevey). He lives in Haddonfield, which placates advocates for a “South Jersey” seat. And he’s Hispanic, which makes amends with a community jilted last year when Zulima Farber’s bid for the court was quashed.

Next came the dirt digging. The Star-Ledger of Newark unearthed Rivera-Soto’s “checkered” driving history: eight speeding tickets in 10 years and an unpaid surcharge leading to license suspension in 1995.

And word traveled about a 1993 Atlantic County Chancery Division case, in which a judge found Rivera-Soto’s testimony as in-house lawyer for the Sands Casino “difficult to accept.”

McGreevey – who had pulled Farber’s name after it surfaced that a bench warrant had been issued against her due to nonpayment of a traffic fine – was unwavering in his support for Rivera-Soto. “We are satisfied that at all times [he] has been a legally licensed driver and he has promptly resolved his obligations,” said McGreevey press secretary Micah Rasmussen. “I will tell you that his record was spotless in Nevada and his record has been spotless since he came back to New Jersey. A traffic ticket does not make someone unqualified to serve.”

Not-So-Easy Rider

Between 1984 and 1994, Rivera-Soto was cited for speeding eight times, seven times in New Jersey and once in Maryland. His New Jersey license was suspended for nonpayment of an insurance surcharge in November 1995. But he had moved to Nevada in 1994 and had surrendered his New Jersey license in March 1995. The notice of surcharge was sent to Rivera-Soto’s old Haddonfield address after he had moved away and was not forwarded, said Rasmussen. The surcharge has since been paid and a new license issued.

But Rivera-Soto does seem to have the need for speed. He rides a BMW motorcycle, said Steven Suflas, a partner with Ballard Spahr in Voorhees who has known Rivera-Soto professionally and socially for years.

Rivera-Soto earned a private pilot’s license in July 1997, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. In Haverford College’s summer 1997 alumni notes, Rivera-Soto wrote that he and his wife and three sons, then 12, 6 and 4, “are adjusting well to life in Southern Nevada and the rather hard-to-take perennial summer of the Mojave Desert. The boys, together with work, flying lessons and my motorcycle (not to mention my wife) make for a rather full life.”

This article originally appeared in the New Jersey Law Journal , a publication of American Lawyer Media.

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