The candidates in races for contested State Bar Association posts are garnering endorsements from key sections, committees and outside bar groups, and the two front-runners for the job of second vice president have mustered strong contingents.

Nancy Erika Smith, of Montclair, was backed in a March 27 resolution by the 2,700-member Essex County Bar Association, and on Tuesday, Thomas Prol, of Franklin, won the approval of the 2,200-member State Bar Young Lawyers’ Division.

Endorsements are likely to play an important role this year, when three contests — for second vice president, secretary and at-large trustee — are open fields. Though State Bar members may vote as they wish, candidates who win official favor from the most populous bar groups can have a proven edge. In 1993, Joseph Bottitta, with strong support from the Young Lawyers Division and the Essex County Bar, beat Raymond Londa, the Nominating Committee’s choice for secretary, taking 53 percent of the vote.

Measured by head counts, Smith is in the lead in the second-vice-president race. Besides Essex County, she has nods of approval from the New Jersey Association for Justice (2,400 members), the State Bar Labor and Employment Section (1,000 members), the Civil Trial Bar Section (800 members) and the National Employment Lawyer Association-NJ (165 members).

The Young Lawyers Division chose Prol based on his “passionate advocating for New Jersey lawyers, especially Young Lawyers, standing up and speaking out for the issues that impact them,” says its chairman, Jonathan Lomurro.

Prol is also endorsed by the 400-member Women in the Profession Section, the 130-member Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (LGBT) Section that he helped found, the 33-member Diversity Committee and the Sussex County Bar Association.

A third hopeful for second vice president, Kenneth Vercammen, of Edison, is the choice of the 250-lawyer Municipal Court Practice Committee, says its chairman, John Menzel.

In the race for bar secretary, the Young Lawyers Division and the Civil Trial Bar Section have endorsed the Nominating Committee’s candidate, John Keefe Jr. of Red Bank.

The LGBT section has picked challenger Bonnie Blume Goldsamt, of Hackensack. She has been endorsed as well by the Dispute Resolution Section, with 375 members, and also claims endorsements from the Women in the Profession Section and by Women Lawyers in Bergen County.

For at-large trustee, the Essex County Bar and the State Bar Civil Trial Bar Section have endorsed Christine Amalfe, of Newark, while the Young Lawyers Division and the Diversity Committee are backing Christina Vassilou Harvey, of Freehold. Harvey is also endorsed by the LGBT section.

Two other at-large trustee hopefuls, Amy Sara Cores of Howell and Marla Marinucci of Marmora, have no known endorsements.

A handful of bar groups are still expected to make endorsements, among them the State Bar’s Criminal Practice Section and the Middlesex County Bar Association. 

Meeting Push-Back

The quest for official favor has caused some upsets for Prol.

A statement on his campaign’s Facebook page that state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, had endorsed him prompted Weinberg to remark on her own Facebook page that she did not.

Weinberg said in a March 29 posting, “I am not a member of the organization, and I’m not an attorney. I did not and would not endorse anyone for a position within the NJSBA, particularly as a member of the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee.”

Though Prol has removed the item from his page, he says that at a March 20 dinner of the New Jersey Women Lawyers Association, he heard Weinberg, in informal conversations “firmly and unequivocally ask numerous people … to vote for me.” He calls Weinberg’s Facebook posting “a change of heart.”

Weinberg, in an email to a reporter, said Prol “did not have any reason to believe I would become involved in any way” and that she “would never presume to endorse someone for a position in the NJSBA.”

Another flap erupted after Prol posted on Facebook a photo of him with State Bar President Kevin McCann. In a letter last Wednesday, McCann demanded that Prol take the photo down, saying it was deceptively placed with a list of people endorsing Prol.

“Not only do I not endorse you; everyone in my Bridgeton office signed the nominating petition for Nancy Erica [sic] Smith,” McCann said, adding, “I believe it was my idea that Nancy Erica [sic] Smith be contacted with regard to running for the position of Second Vice President.”

On Thursday, Prol wrote in response that the photo at issue depicts McCann’s presentation of the State Bar Amicus Curiae Award last Dec. 14 for Prol’s volunteer advocacy. He argued and co-wrote the State Bar’s amicus brief in defense of the NJ Anti-bullying Act.

“I posted the photo on my Facebook page the same day I received it in December and no one has questioned the photo until Mr. McCann sent his letter,” Prol said, adding, “It is obviously not coincidental that he is raising the issue now, a week before the voting is to start in NJSBA elections where he solicited and supports an opponent running against me.”

McCann says, however, that he saw the photo on Prol’s separate Facebook page for the bar election campaign, where the photo, as Prol concedes, was posted only a week ago.

State Bar President Kevin McCann, right, was angered by Thomas Prol, left, posting on Facebook this picture of Prol receiving the State Bar Amicus Curiae Award last Dec. 14, saying it suggested an endorsement.

Both letters appear in Voice of the Bar.

Residency on the Agenda

McCann, in his letter, also stated his support for a proposed bylaw amendment that is up for a vote by members, which states: "To be eligible to serve as an officer, a member’s practice of law shall be primarily in the state of New Jersey."

The amendment was fashioned in response to Prol’s particular situation. Though he was the State Bar’s 2012-13 secretary, he was denied the Nominating Committee’s nod for the post of treasurer — to which he would normally have ascended in lockstep — based on its view that his employment with the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs and his concomitant New York residence would make him unable to carry out State Bar duties.

Prol maintains that he has the permission of his New York employer to continue a part-time legal practice in New Jersey, which he says he does at his law office in Franklin, Sussex County.

Rather than run against the Nominating Committee’s pick for treasurer, Robert Hille of Morristown, Prol opted to run for the second-vice-president post, for which there was no official candidate. When the Nominating Committee’s choice, outgoing treasurer Angela White Dalton, was appointed a Superior Court judge, she was obliged to quit the State Bar.

The Nominating Committee decided not to make a replacement selection, which left the election open to anyone who amassed 250 bar members’ signatures on a petition by March 18. Prol, Smith and Vercammen did so.

The committee took the same route with respect to the at-large trustee seat, for which Mitzy Galis-Menendez had been its choice before she, too, resigned from the State Bar upon being appointed a Superior Court judge.

The four candidates who collected signatures to get on the ballot for the at-large trustee’s post are Harvey, a personal injury associate at Lomurro, Davison, Eastman & Munoz in Freehold; Amalfe, chairwoman of the labor and employment practice at Gibbons in Newark; Cores, a Howell solo practicing matrimonial and family law; and Marinucci, an associate practicing matrimonial and family law at April & Marinucci in Marmora.

Goldsamt got on the ballot by petition to challenge Keefe, the Nominating Committee’s choice for secretary.