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Ronald DeMaria, the founder of one of New Jersey’s first management-side boutiques in the age of modern workplace litigation, died on April 22 after a brief illness. He was 64.

A baker’s son and Newark native, DeMaria chose law after a brief business career. He earned a B.A. in business management at Rutgers University in 1961 and went to work as a production analyst at the Ford Motor Co. plant in Edison. He earned his M.B.A. at Rutgers in 1965 and enrolled at Seton Hall University School of Law. He was law review editor and graduated first in his class in 1968.

Joining Lum, Biunno and Tompkins in Newark, DeMaria practiced traditional labor law until 1981, when he and H. Reed Ellis formed their own firm on the cusp of a new wave of employment law. At the time, individual suits arising from workplace issues were proliferating, and the firm’s business grew rapidly as courts gave more rights to workers. It reached 27 lawyers by the early 1990s.

But growing competition from larger firms, coupled with the completion of major cases, led to attrition. Some partners withdrew in 1995 and 1996, and only nine lawyers remained in 2000 when the firm dissolved. DeMaria joined Morristown’s McElroy, Deutsch & Mulvaney. He stayed there until last March 1, when he joined Livingston’s Genova, Burns & Vernoia.

Name partner Angelo Genova, who was a partner at DeMaria Ellis from 1984 to 1989, says he considered DeMaria a mentor. “He came up during an era of traditional labor law and . . . effectively transitioned . . . to an effective litigator,” says Genova. “I learned a great deal from him in terms of substance and style.”

- By Charles Toutant

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