Patty Shwartz

A Flip in Time — For months, Sen. Robert Menendez had blocked U.S. Magistrate Judge Patty Shwartz‘s nomination to the Third Circuit amid accusations that it was for personal reasons. On Jan. 6, he denied holding a grudge against an assistant U.S. attorney with whom Shwartz had a long-term romantic relationship. Rather, he insisted, Shwartz “did not adequately demonstrate the breadth of knowledge of constitutional law and pivotal Supreme Court decisions” needed for the job. He cited in particular the Citizens United ruling on corporate campaign spending. But by Jan. 13, Menendez had reinterviewed Shwartz and relented, saying, “She adequately allayed my earlier concerns.” Shwartz was still awaiting Senate approval as of the year’s end.


Virtual Office

Bricks Stay Mortared — The state Supreme Court’s Professional Responsibility Rules Committee recommended an unprecedented loosening of the “bona fide office” rule: lifting the requirement of a physical plant so long as the lawyer was reachable by clients, other lawyers and the courts for official business, including service of process. The proposal, a concession to new-age technology that makes it easy for lawyers to work remotely, was warmly hailed by solo and part-time practitioners, especially those with child-care responsibilities. But the court apparently had trepidations, keeping the recommendation “under consideration.” There was still no action as of year’s end.


Phillip Kwon

Family Matters — Gov. Chris Christie‘s attempt to give the state Supreme Court its first Asian-American justice fell flat. The Senate Judiciary Committee rejected First Assistant Attorney General Phillip Kwon after grilling him for more than six hours at a hearing about his family’s finances. His mother’s liquor store in Mount Vernon, N.Y., had settled a federal government suit over more than $2 million in allegedly improper bank deposits. Kwon insisted on his lack of involvement and said he had counseled his mother that cash deposits of just under $10,000, as were her habit, were red flags. Kwon was also challenged as to his political affiliation. He claimed to be an independent but was a registered Republican in New York as late as 2010.


 

Keeping Overhead Down — A year after the Law Journal‘s Top 20 firms roared back from their first slide in revenue and profits in a quarter century, the resurgence continued and, in fact, righted the key metrics to their prerecession trend lines. This year’s survey showed the Top 20 firms grossing $1.69 billion in 2011, up 3.3 percent from $1.63 billion in 2010, and netting $581.7 million, which was 4.9 percent more than $554.6 million in 2010. What’s more, the firms accomplished those gains while holding at relative stasis in numbers of lawyers. The high-yield/low-overhead formula was best applied by Lowenstein Sandler, which vaulted to first place — marking the first time in 26 years that McCarter & English didn’t hold the survey’s top spot.


Thomas Cafferty

Taking a Mulligan — In a rare self-reversal, the state Supreme Court speedily corrected an opinion in a defamation case that purportedly authorized an award of punitive damages based only on nominal damages — in clear conflict with the Punitive Damages Act. The mistake was of no small importance, since the prospect of winning punitives may be the only incentive for a lawyer to take on a defamation case in which compensatory damages are hard to prove. Thomas Cafferty, representing the amicus New Jersey Press Association in W.J.A. v. D.A., was one of the lawyers who brought the error to the court’s attention by letter. They had sought reargument, but the court’s revised opinion, five days after the original, made it unnecessary.


William Martini

Double Disqualified — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit bounced U.S. District Judge William Martini from the murder-conspiracy and racketeering case against former prosecutor Paul Bergrin, finding his impartiality might reasonably be questioned. Martini’s ouster was a victory for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which had clashed repeatedly with Martini during Bergrin’s first trial that ended with a hung jury, especially as to counts under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The same day, another Third Circuit panel in an unrelated case, U.S. v. Kennedy, found Martini’s actions and remarks — such as questioning the propriety of a 40-year sentence and coming close to taking the role of defense attorney — were grounds for removal there as well.


Paul DePascale

Pyrrhic Victory — Superior Court Judge Paul DePascale won his challenge to reform legislation increasing judge’s pension and health-care contributions … for about a week. The state Supreme Court ruled on July 24 that the law violated the state constitutional ban, art. VI, sec. 6, par. 6, on diminishing judges’ salaries during their terms in office. But on July 30, by overwhelming majorities, both the Senate and the Assembly approved a constitutional amendment to undo the ruling. The proposed change would specifically exempt pension and health-care deductions from the clause. The amendment, which enjoyed remarkable cross-party support, would go on the ballot in November and win passage with 83 percent of the vote.


Ronald Riccio

Diversity Lags — New Jersey firms notched nearly no progress during the prior year in improving gender and ethnic diversity, a Law Journal survey showed. Women made up 28.78 percent of total lawyers at the firms studied, slightly less than 29.43 percent last year. And minorities dropped a tad, to 8.05 percent from 8.42 percent. In raw numbers, there were 2.91 percent fewer women and 5.08 percent fewer minorities in the lawyer ranks. Worse news was on the horizon, as other surveys showed representation of minorities and women in law schools declining. “The pool of diverse future lawyers is growing smaller, not larger,” noted former Seton Hall School of Law dean Ronald Riccio, now with McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter.

 


Richard Nolan

Bonds Rebound, Slowly — Public-agency borrowing through bond issues in New Jersey rebounded in the first six months of 2012, but mostly through refinancings of existing debt. A survey showed 217 bonds were issued — the highest total in six years and an 85.5 percent jump over 117 in the same period last year. The bonds’ total value of $5.235 billion was a 13.3 percent increase over $4.621 billion in last year’s period. But at least 151 issues were for refunding existing debt, and bond lawyers like Richard Nolan of McCarter & English said continued economic uncertainty had forestalled a more robust increase. McManimon & Scotland handled the most issues, 75, while Wolff & Samson posted the highest value, $1.27 million, for a 24.3 percent market share.


Charles Lizza

Letting in Land Lawyers — The state Supreme Court Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law gave its nod, in limited circumstances, to foreign lawyers carrying on real-estate transactions here without local counsel. Committee Chairman Charles Lizza said the inquiry that sparked Opinion 49, about a recently revised provision of the Rules of Professional Conduct governing multijurisdictional practice, concerned a type of real estate transaction that was “fairly common.” For an out-of-state lawyer to be allowed to represent an out-of-state buyer contracting for a purchase of N.J. commercial real estate, the lawyer’s practice must be “occasional” and the transaction must arise from his or her pre-existing representation of the client outside New Jersey, interruption of which would be harmful, the committee said.


Karen Sacks

After the Superstorm — Lawyers in New Jersey, as elsewhere in the Northeast, scrambled to pick up the pieces after Hurricane Sandy, the most destructive one to hit the area in decades. Storm damage and losses of power and utilities shut down law firms and in some cases the courts. The judiciary ordered a three-week extension of filing deadlines and statutes of limitation, and it instituted a process whereby lawyers and self-represented litigants seeking to reconstruct lost or damaged files could request, at no cost, listings of their active court cases and copies of documents. Bar groups — like Volunteer Lawyers for Justice, led by executive director Karen Sacks — offered pro bono advice on the ground to state residents hardest hit by the storm.


Chris Christie

Poker Face — Gov. Chris Christie nominated Monmouth County Judge David Bauman and Board of Public Utilities president Robert Hanna to fill two state Supreme Court vacancies. The men represented Christie’s follow-up bid to his prior offers, Phillip Kwon and Bruce Harris, whom the Democrat-dominated Senate Judiciary Committee had roundly rejected. “I don’t know what more they could ask for at this point,” he said. The Asian Pacific American Lawyers Association applauded the choice of Bauman, a Japanese-American, while the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey decried the lack of a Latino candidate. The Garden State Bar Association noted that if the nominees are confirmed, the court would be without an African-American for at least the next decade.