Last weekend, on Sunday, I had some water in the basement, and as my wife and I worked to air out some items that had gotten damp, she came across a box of old Law Journal print editions.
I could not help but look through them, and immediately noticed a number of front-page stories from Michael Booth: His coverage of then-Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto’s impending departure from the Supreme Court, Anne Patterson’s confirmation to the court, and much more. By the time these reports came (2011), Mike had already been doing the job for many years.
I didn’t know then, as I dug through those old issues that Sunday afternoon, that Mike would leave us that night—that less than 24 hours later I would be informing the Law Journal staff of our loss.
Mike spent nearly 25 years reporting from Trenton and elsewhere for the New Jersey Law Journal—and worked as a journalist for some 35 years—before that Sunday. He died unexpectedly on Jan. 6 at age 56. A Virginia native who came to New Jersey in 1984 to pursue his journalism career, Mike began working for the Law Journal on May 2, 1994, as a reporter, and later became Trenton bureau chief. He would have marked 25 years with the Law Journal this coming May.
The Law Journal, and ALM Media at large, lost an experienced and knowledgeable journalist, and a terrific colleague and friend. He wrote not only for New Jersey, but also the National Law Journal, The Recorder, Texas Lawyer, The Legal Intelligencer, and other ALM publications.
Since the terrible news of Mike’s death, calls and emails have come in from all quarters, and I spent some time reaching out to people who knew him well over the years.
Among those who shared thoughts was New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner.
“Mike Booth covered the judicial branch of government for more than two decades and played a vital role in informing the public about the courts,” Rabner said in a statement. “We will miss his important voice and we offer our condolences to his family at this difficult time.”
Mike indeed left his mark on the journalism profession in New Jersey, but for those who knew him personally, the impression went far deeper.
Pete McAleer, former reporter for The Press of Atlantic City and now spokesman for the New Jersey judiciary, shared office space with Mike at the New Jersey Statehouse in his former position.
“I shared a small office on press row with Mike for five years and got to learn about his love for European soccer, old reruns of Hogan’s Heroes and funk music,” McAleer said in an email. “If you knew Mike at all, you knew what he loved most was talking about his daughters and how proud he was of both of them. He was a great dad and a good friend and he will be missed.”
Over his years at the Law Journal, Mike covered the state Supreme Court and other courts, the New Jersey Legislature, and more. Among his earliest dispatches, according to Law Journal archives, was his report on a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruling in Fagan v. City of Vineland, a case concerning government liability for injuries caused during police chases.
Most recently, he wrote about cases argued before the state Supreme Court on Jan. 3—over charitable immunity’s applicability to injuries sustained at a for-profit concert run by a nonprofit university, and a volunteer firefighter’s entitlement to workers’ compensation benefits. Last year, Mike reported on watershed rulings concerning public access to police dashcam footage, the Accutane mass tort, discoverability of internal hospital records, and a same-sex spouse’s right to pursue a bystander distress claim under tort law.
We might have taken Mike’s knowledge on such topics for granted, but the job he did for so long is not a job that just any reporter is capable of doing.
In the years between, there were more reports—more vital coverage for Law Journal readers—than can possibly be enumerated or summarized here properly.
His journalism career had already taken off, however, by the time he joined the Law Journal in 1994.
Mike grew up in Christiansburg, Virginia, and graduated from Christiansburg High School. A 1984 graduate of Virginia Tech, he covered politics and government for United Press International and the Roanoke Times & World News during his time in college, and in August 1984 he began working for the The Evening News in Bridgeton. In July 1986 he began working for The Times of Trenton, where he spent eight years—including as legal affairs reporter—before joining the Law Journal.
Michael Topel, who also launched his career at the Trenton Times in the mid-1980s, said, “we were friends right away.”
“Mike was smart and a nice guy, and as a reporter, people would talk to him because he didn’t have a big ego,” Topel, now a managing editor at NBC Universal, said by phone. “People would open up to him.”
In that era, competition was particularly stiff between the Times and the Trentonian, according to Topel.
“You had to be smart, you had to work hard, and you had to be fast. Mike hit all those marks,” Topel said. “In the newsroom, he was really easy to work with and he had a lot of friends.”
After Mike spent several years at the Times, he heard—through a friend of his wife, Candy—that the Law Journal was seeking a reporter for the Trenton area, and he got the job.
Ronald Fleury, former Law Journal editor-in-chief, hired Mike in 1994.
“Mike was a stalwart member of the N.J. Statehouse press corps and the backbone of the Law Journal’s state capital coverage,” Fleury said in an email. “He wrote authoritatively about the courts, the legislature, the executive branch and the legal community with insight and objectivity, holding to the highest journalistic standards. He was trusted and respected in government circles as well as among lawyers and judges, and he will be missed.”
Since Mike passed away, I and my colleagues at the Law Journal have heard from countless others—who worked with Mike, who talked to Mike for stories, who knew him professionally and personally—expressing their sadness and asking that condolences be passed along to Mike’s grieving family.
We hope that such gestures, including from Mike’s Law Journal and ALM colleagues, provide some small measure of comfort in what can only be an unspeakably difficult time. Grieving are his wife, Candy Cure, an attorney who has been in government and private practice, daughter Samantha, a senior at Rutgers University majoring in political science, and daughter Sydney, a high school senior.
Candy met Mike in the halls of Mercer County Superior Court, when she was clerking and Mike was reporting for the Times. They were married for 27 years.
Mike, his family said recently, “loved coaching and watching his daughters’ sports, spending time at Riverdel Swim Club, watching premier league soccer, reading, telling jokes, and spending time with his family.”
One of the most heartening things for me personally has been to witness the outpouring of support from colleagues at ALM.
CEO Bill Carter wrote in a recent memo to all company employees, “we lost one of our own this weekend. Mike Booth, our longtime Trenton correspondent, who had covered the NJ Supreme Court and NJ politics diligently for decades for us.”
Hank Grezlak, editor-in-chief, regional brands and legal themes, for ALM Media, began working closely with Mike five years ago. He said Booth “was a difference maker” and “a consummate pro.”
“His work was read closely by New Jersey Law Journal readers,” he said. “He knew all the players, and some of his strongest stories came from being able to connect the dots and illustrate how decisions and votes got done.”
He added, ”It wasn’t unusual for him to file three stories a day when there were hot arguments before the court, or a busy legislative session going on.”
Zack Needles, global managing editor, regional brands, spent roughly two years editing Mike every day, and got to know him well during that time.
“Mike had extensive knowledge of New Jersey government and the state courts and could discuss both topics in depth and at length,” he said. “He was a font of knowledge that I tapped into frequently during my time at the New Jersey Law Journal and beyond. But my favorite topic to talk about with Mike was family. He lit up every time he spoke of his wife and daughters and gave me heartfelt advice and encouragement when my second daughter was born last year. He was a great guy with a sly sense of humor and a real soft spot for the people he loved, and he will be missed.”
I can vouch for Zack ‘s points, but especially the one about family. Mike cherished his family above all else, and understood and looked for that quality in others. One Friday evening, after I had come home from the office, Mike called my cellphone with a late question about something that had come up earlier that day, and he laughed uproariously as he heard my toddler following me around the house demanding to know who was on the phone. Mike beamed any time I talked about or showed him pictures of my family. He warned me that toddler sass is nothing compared to teenager sass. (Mike, I’ve been imploring my daughters to stay the same size forever, but I don’t think any of us have a choice in the matter.)
These are profoundly fond memories, but day to day, what I will probably miss most is working closely with Mike.
Each day, once we had spoken and laid out the day’s tasks, Mike had a stock sign-off: “Good enough.” It meant that he understood what was being asked of him. It meant that the editor’s explanation of his charge was “good enough.” But it meant more than that. It meant he was going to come back with a story that was better than “good enough.”
Indeed, Mike wanted to be better.
On that point, I’ll leave the last word to Mike’s wife, who has kindly spoken to me several times over the course of a very difficult week.
“Any time his story went to daily newspapers,” because he had scooped those dailies, “he was happy,” Candy told me.
“If he got it first, I know that always made him happy.”