The contest for a State Bar leadership post that leads to the presidency has added two more potential candidates.
Employment lawyer Nancy Erika Smith and municipal court attorney Kenneth Vercammen are gathering the 250 signatures they need by March 18 to run for the office of second vice president, three rungs below the top spot.
Smith, of Smith Mullin in Montclair, a 30-year member, chaired the Labor and Employment Section for two years, while Vercammen, who heads a firm in Edison, has about 25 years and is a past chairman of the Municipal Court Section.
The race has gathered a lot of history in a short period.
Thomas Prol announced his candidacy for second vice president on Feb. 13. He was Bar secretary for the current term, but on Feb. 4, the Bar’s Nominating Committee announced it would not endorse him for treasurer for 2013-14, denying him the usual lockstep advancement, because he now works and lives in New York.
It relied on a bylaw that says the extent of a lawyer’s practice in New Jersey should be a factor in selecting nominees.
The second vice president slot for 2013-14 would have been filled by the 2012-2013 treasurer, Angela White Dalton, but it opened up when she was confirmed as a Superior Court judge on Feb. 7.
Denied the nod for treasurer, Prol aimed higher, declaring his intent to run an insurrection campaign for second vice president.
In the meantime, he has moved up to replace Dalton as treasurer until the term ends in May.
The same day the Nominating Committee blocked Prol’s ascension, it gave Robert Hille, of McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter in Morristown, its nod for treasurer for 2013-14.
Smith traces her run to last year’s Bar convention, where colleagues pointed out to her that the current top seven bar officers were white and only one, Dalton, was a woman.
"People know I’m always complaining about diversity" and it was suggested that she could advance it by getting involved in the leadership, she says. She applied to be a Bar trustee, was approved and would have begun in May.
Her interest shifted to second vice president, however, when she heard about Dalton and before she learned of Prol’s candidacy, on Feb. 19.
"I’m not doing this to pad my résumé. I’ve worked for the Bar my entire career. I believe in what we do," says Smith.
As of Friday, she had amassed about 300 signatures and put together an election committee that includes three former State Bar presidents: Susan Feeney, Wayne Positan and Karol Corbin Walker.
Positan, of Roseland’s Lum Drasco & Positan, calls Smith "one of the leading lawyers in New Jersey."
Based on his experience as Bar president, Positan questions whether Prol would be able to meet the demands of the job when he does not live or work in the state.
The New Jersey chapter of the National Employment Lawyers Association endorsed Smith on Wednesday.
Vercammen says his decision on Thursday to run came in response to the Bar’s announcement on Feb. 15 that it was accepting petitions from interested candidates after Dalton’s departure.
He says Dalton is a friend and he would not have run against her, but once the spot opened up, he thought "not too many people have been more active in the State Bar Association than me over the past 25 years."
For example, he recently testified before legislative committees in both houses on its behalf about pending bills, in addition to serving as a frequent speaker and teacher for the association.
Vercammen says he would bring a small-firm perspective to the job and that the midyear meeting during his presidency would not be set in "a far away place that people like me can’t afford."
He started collecting signatures Friday morning at the municipal courts in Edison and Metuchen and obtained three.
Most lawyers he approached were not Bar members, he says. Another expected obstacle is that signatures must be original and thus cannot be gathered by fax or email.
He planned to add names Saturday at a New Jersey Association for Justice seminar and calls it conceivable that he will have to stand in courthouse lobbies seeking signatories.
Vercammen says of Prol, "He’s a good lawyer but I don’t know how you get around the fact that rules are rules."
Prol, undaunted, points out that the other candidates have not progressed through the ranks as he has, first as a trustee, then secretary.
"As with any complex organization, good leadership is informed by the depth of experience of its history and the understanding that can only be gained by firsthand participation in its governance," he says. He also notes that in addition to the job in New York, he has a law practice in Franklin.
As the first openly LGBT officer of the State Bar, Prol was on track to become the first LGBT president.
Smith says Prol would still be another in a string of white males and she has a strong history of support for LGBT rights. •