In a rare departure from tradition, the State Bar Association has declined to renominate one of its executive officers for lockstep succession to the presidency.
The bar announced on Monday that its Nominating Committee had decided not to give the bar secretary, Thomas Prol, of Franklin, its endorsement for the post of treasurer in 2013-14.
The stated reason for the committee’s action, which will remove Prol from the executive committee in May, is that Prol, formerly a Sussex County resident and employed by Cleary, Giacobbe, Alfieri & Jacobs in Matawan, is now working and living out of state.
Last July, he became associate general counsel and agency chief contracting officer for the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, according to his LinkedIn profile. The job requires New York residence.
John Eastlack Jr., the Nominating Committee chairman, said that “referring to the association’s own bylaws, it was felt that with his recent full-time out-of-state legal employment, and given his now out-of-state residency, Mr. Prol could not continue to represent the organization’s membership as an NJSBA officer.”
The bylaws do not specifically require officers to live or work in New Jersey, but Article IV, Section 3, sets out factors the committee is to consider in its selection of nominees. One is “the extent of practice in the State of New Jersey, including but not limited to government and corporate service.”
Other factors are service to the bar association and its constituent parts, service to county and/or specialty bar associations, geographical balance and “the goal of bringing into the Association’s leadership broad and diverse representation of all segments of the Bar.”
Prol, the first openly gay officer on the State Bar’s executive committee, was a founding member and co-chairman of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Rights Section.
He has also been a bar trustee, vice chairman of the Amicus Committee and a member of the Legislative, Diversity, Finance & Operations, and Membership & Public Relations committees. And he was the association’s representative on the Supreme Court’s Committee on Mandatory Continuing Legal Education.
Prol says he strongly disagrees with the committee’s decision and is weighing possible courses of action in response. “The committee’s decision to decline to nominate on such a basis is without precedent in our 113-year history and appears to be informed by a novel interpretation of the by-laws that is discordant with the committee’s well-established precedent and procedures,” he said in a letter [see full text].
Though the job at the Department of Consumer Affairs requires New York City residency, a departmental ethics officer last August approved his request to have an outside law practice, subject to specified limitations.
Prol says he presented the committee, at a Jan. 31 interview, with evidence of his “ongoing, active legal practice in New Jersey,” including his service as counsel to the Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority.
Eastlack did not specify what other factors the committee considered, nor did he give the vote count, saying the deliberations are confidential.
“The committee has tremendous respect and regard for Mr. Prol’s dedication and efforts on behalf of the association and its members,” he said.
But Prol says “the curious nature of my rejection by the committee, coupled with the apparent lack of any legal or historical authority or precedent for the treatment I received, has caused significant, grave concern within the LGBT Rights Section.”
Jeffrey Neu, who sits on the Nominating Committee, confirms that the decision has angered members of that section and of the Young Lawyers Division. Emphasizing that he speaks only for himself, Neu, of Kazas Neu in Red Bank, calls Prol’s ouster “ridiculous” and not befitting someone with his record of service.
Prol would not say whether he will challenge Robert Hille, the candidate the committee selected for the treasurer position. To run in a contested election, Prol would have to collect 250 petition signatures from members in good standing.
Hille, of McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter in Morristown, had originally sought to run for secretary. That nomination went to John Keefe Jr. of Keefe Bartels in Red Bank.
The Bar is likely to have yet another opening in its officer ranks soon. Angela White Dalton, who is treasurer and got the committee’s nod Monday as second vice president, was nominated on Jan. 28 to the Superior Court by Gov. Chris Christie. She is with Zager Fuchs in Red Bank, where she handles guardianship, probate and chancery litigation.
The other officers endorsed by the committee at the same time were president-elect Paris Eliades, a solo in Sparta, and first vice president Miles Winder, a solo in Bernardsville who practices business law.
Ralph Lamparello, a litigator with Chasan Leyner & Lamparello in Secaucus, will automatically appear on the ballot as president, having been nominated last year, with no action required by the committee now.
If the committee’s choices are not challenged, their names will be presented to association members for a vote and they will likely be sworn into their new posts at the annual meeting in May.
Only once before has the Nominating Committee disrupted the orderly advancement of its leaders by ousting a sitting officer.
That was in 2001, when the nomination for treasurer was denied to secretary Walter Lesnevich and instead went to Edwin McCreedy.
“It was very controversial,” Stuart Hoberman, State Bar president in 2005-06, says of Lesnevich’s ouster. “I think once you get in [the executive committee], there’s an expectation you will move up.”
Besides Keefe, a certified trial attorney, and Hille, who concentrates on insurance and health-care law, the other candidates who sought the secretary position were solos Robert Brass of Bloomfield, Bonnie Blume Goldsamt of Verona and Amirali Haidri of Springfield.