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For the lucky few who get them, judicial clerkships provide invaluable inside knowledge about the courts and the promise of lucrative job offers by firms willing to pay for them. But to what extent do clerks bring to the firm that hires them an imputed disqualification? The question is before the New Jersey Supreme Court in Camparato v. Schait, A-43-03, a case of divorcing spouses fighting over — among other things — who should represent them. The theory of conflict goes like this: A clerk for the trial judge in the case was hired by the wife’s law firm. When the partner handling the case left the firm to start a new one, the clerk went with him and at that point became involved in the case. Even though the judge then recused himself, the tinge of conflict remained, the husband’s lawyer argues. “Something is truly wrong with this picture,” Patricia Barbarito told the court last Tuesday during oral argument. She said that Superior Court Judge Thomas Zampino was making critical decisions at the time the wife’s firm was considering hiring the clerk, Priscilla Miller. Miller had “substantial involvement” with the case while clerking for the judge from September 1999 to August 2000, when she joined the wife’s law firm, noted Barbarito, of Denville’s Einhorn, Harris, Ascher, Barbarito, Frost & Ironson. At that point, a few of the justices were quizzical about why a conflict arose. “Define ‘substantial involvement,’” posited Chief Justice Deborah Poritz. “The very virtue of what a clerk does,” namely, writing memos and researching case law, said Barbarito. “But the judge always makes the ultimate decision,” Justice Barry Albin noted. When his turn came, the wife’s lawyer, Neil Braun, said Miller’s involvement with the case during her clerkship was minimal. “She had no specific recollection of having any contact with the file. Her involvement was just routine,” said Braun, who left Morristown’s Donahue, Braun, Hagan, Klein & Newsome in 2002 to form Gomperts & Braun in Springfield. Braun insisted that there is no bright-line rule that precludes former clerks from dealing with cases that may have been handled by their judges after they join a firm after completing a clerkship.

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