William Greenberg, long an advocate for the interests of military reservists and veterans, has been appointed to the court that decides contests over benefits due them.
Greenberg, 70, of McCarter & English, was sworn in on Dec. 28 to a 15-year term on the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
The court, formed under Article I of the Constitution in 1988, provides judicial review of benefit determinations by the Board of Veterans Appeals, part of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
President Barack Obama nominated Greenberg on Nov. 15, and the Senate confirmed him unanimously on Dec. 21. Senior U.S. District Judge Joseph Irenas, a former McCarter & English partner, administered the oath of office to Greenberg on Dec. 28 in a private ceremony in Princeton.
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez endorsed Greenberg’s confirmation in December before the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “I simply cannot think of a more qualified citizen-soldier to preside over matters concerning the men and women he has devoted a lifetime to helping,” Menendez said.
Greenberg’s career has combined the practice of law with public service. He has been in private practice as a litigator since his admission to the bar in 1967, with stints as deputy counsel to Gov. Richard Hughes and commissioner on the State Commission on Investigation. He was at Sills, Cummis & Gross from 1989 until 1993, when he joined McCarter & English.
Greenberg served 27 years in the Army National Guard, retiring in 1994 at the rank of brigadier general.
In 2006, he founded the New Jersey State Bar Association’s Military Legal Assistance Program, which matches volunteer lawyers with soldiers needing assistance with problems ranging from disputes with creditors to employers who fail to rehire a returning reservist.
From 2009 to 2011, he was chairman of the Reserve Forces Policy Board at the Department of Defense, which provides advice on matters concerning reservists.
Stephen Vajtay Jr., managing partner of McCarter & English, says Greenberg is “a respected colleague who has played an important role in the growth and success of McCarter. We will miss him, but he is clearly an excellent choice for this position, and I have no doubt that he will serve the nation well as a member of this important court.”
Greenberg, who started his new job Wednesday, plans to relocate to Washington D.C. He says beginners on the job are expected to take on a full case load from the start.
“This is a great honor, and I look forward to addressing the many critical legal issues facing veterans today entrusted to me by the President,” Greenberg says.
The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims has nine judges and disposed of 4,620 cases in 2011. Some cases are heard by panels of three or by the full court, but most are dealt with by a single judge. Decisions are subject to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
Greenberg says he was asked at his confirmation hearing why he wanted to take on such a challenging assignment at an age when many other lawyers are thinking about retirement.
He answered, “This is a matter of, not really of the heart, but the gut, in terms of what I’ve been doing for the past five or six years. Consistent with an oath of impartiality, this is an important calling, and that’s the way I view it.
“I think with my experience, both as a lawyer for 45 years and as a lawyer for soldiers for the last five or six years, I think I bring enough knowledge of the everyday issues confronting our soldiers to have a feel for the important work of the court. I’d rather do this than be in Palm Beach,” he added.
Greenberg says he is in good health and hopes to fill out his 15-year term. Asked at his confirmation hearing about whether he planned to retire, Greenberg says, his answer was, “with great respect, they’re going to have to pry my cold, dead hands from the gavel.”
In his own representation of veterans in disputes over benefits, Greenberg never appeared before the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, because he was always able to achieve a satisfactory result at lower levels of the system.
But many claimants at the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims are unrepresented, he notes.
He calls his experience providing representation to veterans “the best five or six years of my legal career” and says he is confident that other lawyers at McCarter, Lowenstein Sandler and Gibbons who have likewise represented soldiers pro bono will continue to follow his example.
Calling the representation of returning veterans “a matter of broad social consequence,” he said that “hopefully more lawyers will see the intellectual and practical value of doing that.”