To the Editor:

I strongly disagree with the N.J. State Bar Association Nominating Committee’s decision to break with established tradition in refusing to nominate me as treasurer for the coming year. There is no language in the NJSBA bylaws, or any other governing document, that contemplates disqualifying an uncontested officer or trustee candidate because he practices law in New Jersey as well as another state. 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 bylaws that is discordant with the committee’s well-established precedent and procedures.

It has been a great honor for me to have served the NJSBA faithfully over the past decade, an organization that I respect immensely and which is a part of my everyday life. Because I was born in Morris County, went home from the hospital to Passaic County, grew up in Sussex County, lived 10 years in Hudson County, practiced law at offices in Bergen and Morris counties and still practice law in Sussex County in addition to my in-house counsel position with New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs, I was surprised to be called before the Nominating Committee this year to answer questions about the extent of my involvement and work in New Jersey. The inquiry seemed all the more ironic because the NJSBA itself has made frequent use of my N.J. legal practice credentials through my legislative and amicus committee work.

At my Jan. 31 interview, I provided the Nominating Committee with clear and convincing evidence of my ongoing, active legal practice in New Jersey. Some of the information I provided was confirmed by the committee chairman, who had already called one of my public entity clients, the Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority, to inquire about the nature and scope of my legal services. The committee also discussed the Aug. 23 and 24, 2012, authorizations issued by my N.Y. employer, regarding my private N.J. law office/practice, and my service as an NJSBA officer, respectively.

I have compiled a list of recent state bar, county bar and N.J. legal service activities that I have performed mostly while serving as NJSBA secretary, including that I am currently drafting two NJSBA amicus curiae briefs, I argued a case as the NJSBA’s designated counsel and that I wrote a brief for the NJSBA at the N.J. Council on Local Mandates. I am a panelist at two upcoming ICLE programs. I am writing an article for the April 2013 edition of New Jersey Lawyer magazine on the interstate recognition of marriages and civil unions. And I even took on two pro bono clients in New Jersey through the NJSBA’s disaster-assistance project following Hurricane Sandy.

One well-known — and still unfinished — aspect of my tenure at the NJSBA has been bringing the association to join in legal and lobbying efforts to advance and achieve full equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. It was not an easy effort, and we had to overcome considerable initial internal resistance, which has died down somewhat in recent years. My elevation to secretary not only acknowledged my dedication to and efforts in advancing the NJSBA over the past decade, but was a watershed moment for the LGBT community, and especially for LGBT attorneys. The attorneys recognized that, even though the N.J. and federal courts do not view them and their clients as entitled to the equal protection of the law, there was a measure of appreciation that last year’s nominating committee thought it important to finally break the glass ceiling of having an openly gay officer in the State Bar. Unfortunately, I am told that 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

I am grateful to have risen through the Association’s ranks, winning the "Young Lawyer of the Year" award in 2004; serving on the Young Lawyer’s Division Executive Committee; serving as a co-chair and founding member of the LGBT Rights Section; advocating for member attorneys and important issues for over six years each on the Association’s Legislative and Amicus committees, in addition to five years each on the Finance & Operations and Membership & Public Relations committees; reactivating the dormant Administrative Law Section, which is now a model section in the NJSBA; five years as a trustee, winning a number of amicus awards; and then, last year, being elevated to secretary. I have dedicated thousands of hours of work during that time to help the NJSBA advocate better for attorneys, their practices and other matters on which good men and women of conscience must be heard. I will not be dissuaded from continuing that good work.

Thomas Prol
Franklin