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U.S. District Judge Stephen Orlofsky says he can no longer stomach a job dominated by “tedious, dull” gun and drug cases, so he will quit the bench in Camden, N.J., and rejoin his old firm, Blank Rome. Orlofsky, 58, will be the fifth federal judge since 1986 to resign in New Jersey before retirement age. Most of the others quit for higher pay. Orlofsky blamed a decline in stimulating work for his decision to return to 440-lawyer Blank Rome’s Cherry Hill office on Sept. 1. His best-known opinions in his seven-year judicial career dealt with civil matters, but in an interview last week, he said he was now spending 60 to 70 percent of his time on narcotics and firearms prosecutions, many generated by a U.S. Justice Department program, Operation Trigger Lock, that tries to root out crime in urban areas like Camden. “I’m not criticizing the enforcement — that’s a legitimate prosecutorial concern,” he says. “I am not upset because I had to send bad people to jail for a long time. They deserve to go. It’s not a rebellion.” But, he concludes, “For me personally, trying guns and drug cases has become incredibly, tedious, dull and boring and unchallenging.” The U.S. Attorney’s Office was not prepared last week to say exactly how many more drug and gun cases it is prosecuting, but it is true there is a stepped-up effort in those fields, says Deputy U.S. Attorney Lee Solomon. To take advantage of tough federal sentencing guidelines, Assistant U.S. Attorneys are bringing cases against offenders who traditionally have been subject to state prosecution. “Essentially it’s guns and drugs and I don’t see that changing,” Orlofsky says, adding that when he was appointed in 1996, “I never expected it was going to be this way.” Orlofsky was heading for the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the waning months of 2000, but after President Clinton selected him, the Republican-controlled Senate stopped acting on nominations and Orlofsky’s hopes expired with the presidency. Orlofsky suggests that his thinking might have been different if his nomination had been confirmed, but that the lack of promotion is not behind his decision to leave. He says of the higher court judges, “They’re hearing appeals from these cases that are driving me crazy. They deal with a lot of crap, too.” As for the chance to make more money, “It’s a factor but not the principal factor.” He says he’s already paid the last of the college tuition for his children. Managing partner Fred Blume would not say how much partners earn at Blank Rome, but The American Lawyer magazine’s annual financial survey of the 100 largest U.S. firms reports that profits per partner were $440,000 at Blank Rome in 2001. Federal district judges will earn $154,700 this year. Blume says he encountered Orlofsky at a Dec. 17 holiday party at Blank Rome’s Cherry Hill, N.J., office and half-seriously asked, “When are you coming back to the firm?” Surprisingly, Orlofsky replied, “I’ve been thinking about it,” Blume recalls. They met soon afterward and reached an agreement the week of Feb. 9. “He wasn’t being intellectually challenged,” Blume says. The firm already has a roster of former judges, including Nathaniel Jones from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Edward Cahn from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and G. Craig Lord, a state court judge from Pennsylvania. On Feb. 6, the firm announced the hiring of Vincent Poppiti, the Delaware state courts’ chief family judge. John Bissell, chief judge of the New Jersey district, says it is common for people in all fields to grow tired of their work. He says Orlofsky was open about his feelings and a desire for more challenging fare. Bissell says he told Orlofsky, “life isn’t a dress rehearsal and I suggested he follow his head and heart.” He says the court will miss Orlofsky and, in particular, his writing ability. A 2001 New Jersey Law Journal survey of lawyers who practice in the federal court portrayed Orlofsky as a knowledgeable, prompt and hard-working judge. His high marks in 10 categories ranging from fairness to ability to forge settlements earned him third place in overall competence among the 21 judges in the district. In the category of courtesy and respect for litigants and lawyers, however, only five judges had lower scores. That may have been a reflection of his reputation for paying special attention to the lawyering in cases before him. In a number of decisions, he sought to improve the quality of lawyering by reducing fees and imposing sanctions. Last December, he ordered a plaintiff’s lawyer to pay a health insurer’s legal fees out of her own pocket for bringing a frivolous claim. In November, he berated lawyers at Pepper Hamilton for an embarrassing mixup in which the firm’s Philadelphia and Detroit branches ended up briefly on opposite sides of a motion. In October, he fined Cherry Hill litigator Clifford Van Syoc $58,000 for pursuing a baseless reverse-discrimination case. In August, he accused lawyers for Microsoft of engaging in a “legal feeding frenzy” and cut a $236,000 fee award in half. In a 1999 case that reinforced the notion that lawyers owe duties to nonclients, he upheld a bank’s legal malpractice claim against a borrower’s attorney who wrote a misleading opinion letter. Two of his recent cases attracted national attention. In 2002, he handled the case of a Cape May Court House dentist who sued Ford Motor Co. for wrongful death, saying a defective airbag caused his wife’s death in a car crash. Ford made headlines when it presented evidence that she died of blunt force trauma, sending the case into the hands of criminal prosecutors. In 2001, Orlofsky handed environmentalists a victory in Citizens in Action v. New Jersey Dep’t of Envt’l Protection, 145 F. Supp.2d 446 (D.N.J. 2001), a case involving claims of environmental racism. Orlofsky barred the DEP from opening an already built $50 million cement plant in Camden, after finding that officials never considered the disparate impact on a predominantly minority neighborhood that already suffers from pollution. The Supreme Court undermined his reasoning in an unrelated case five days later, however, and the 3rd Circuit reversed his decision. Orlofsky will have the distinction of being the only federal jurist in New Jersey to leave twice, both times for the same firm. From 1976 to 1980, he was the first full-time U.S. magistrate and then went to Blank Rome where he headed the New Jersey office and its litigation department until his 1996 appointment to the district court.

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