At his first jury trial as assistant Hudson County prosecutor, Ralph J. Lamparello was confident he would win. After all, as the prosecutor in charge of the office’s juvenile section he had never lost a case. Now, in his first jury trial, he was trying an adult charged with stealing a car.
“Hey, come on up and see my first guilty verdict,” he told former colleagues.
He lost. It stung, but not for long, said Lamparello, a certified civil and criminal litigator and managing partner of Chasan, Leyner & Lamparello PC in Secaucus.
“It was a life lesson. What I realized was you don’t take anything for granted. You leave no stone unturned. I also realized that it’s not whether you get knocked down, but how quickly you pick yourself back up,” said Lamparello.
Those who know him best describe him as demanding of others as well as himself; detail-oriented to a nearly distracting degree, yet highly personable; sensitive to others’ feelings; fiercely loyal and funny. His pursuit of excellence in all things is legendary among friends and professional acquaintances.
Now, he is set to take those skills to one of the highest profile positions in the New Jersey legal community: as president of the 18,000-member New Jersey State Bar Association.
“He’s so meticulous in his preparation, so vigorous in his advocacy, and so professional in the way he handles himself in court. Quite candidly, Ralph is the best lawyer I know,” said Thomas P. Olivieri, a former superior court judge and longtime friend and colleague.
On May 16, Lamparello, 60, will be installed as the 115th president of the state bar association, the largest legal group in New Jersey. Chief Justice Stuart Rabner is scheduled to swear him in during the group’s Annual Meeting and Convention in Atlantic City. It will be the first time in 40 years an attorney from Hudson County has headed the association, a fact he and others who hail from those parts are savoring.
Hudson County Roots
“We’re so proud of him,” said criminal defense lawyer Brian Neary, who grew up in Jersey City. Lamparello and Neary are both past presidents of the Hudson County Bar Association. “Everybody thinks of us as street guys, tough guys. But just because we have these accents doesn’t mean we’re stupid.”
Hardly. Lamparello graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the College of the Holy Cross; Neary was Phi Beta Kappa at Notre Dame. And Lamparello, a resident of Somerset County for the past 20 years, treasures his roots and ties to the old neighborhood. He believes his upbringing in Bayonne, combined with the guidance he received from the Jesuits at Saint Peter’s Prep in Jersey City and Holy Cross in Massachusetts, contributed hugely to his success. He oversees 85 employees at his firm like an attentive father. Most of his work involves civil cases, and he represents numerous governmental entities.
At Chasan he set the bar high, but was a frank and wonderful teacher, according to Julien Neals, business administrator for the city of Newark, who joined the firm as a young attorney.
“If a young lawyer screwed up, he would be direct and straight, and wouldn’t beat around the bush, but I don’t remember him ever yelling,” Neals said.
Lamparello attended Catholic schools from elementary school through law school at St. John’s in New York City. His father was a truck driver and owned a gas station, where Lamparello pumped gas as a child. One set of grandparents came from Spain, the other from Italy. Lamparello was a gifted athlete and played baseball and football in high school.
At Holy Cross, where he played baseball and rugby, he majored in economics. He remembers college as an intellectually stimulating and rewarding experience.
“It made me feel I could do anything I wanted,” said Lamparello. “The sky was the limit. That was a whole awakening.”
Upon arriving at law school though, he felt as if he had been doused with a bucket of cold water. “At Holy Cross you were kind of nurtured, and everything was philosophical and theoretical. Law school was all business, from day one. Students were also extremely competitive,” he recalled.
Even so, Lamparello continued to thrive and discovered a passion for trial work.
After graduating in 1977, Lamparello was hired by the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office. Two years later, he became a deputy attorney general in the Division of Criminal Justice. It was there that he met his wife, Carol, a criminal investigator. They have two children, Philip, a lawyer at the Gibbons law firm in Newark, and Nicole, a medical doctor at New York University Langone Medical Center.
In 1980, he and Olivieri opened a law practice in Jersey City. They started in a basement office, with no clients, but the practice thrived until 1989, when Lamparello moved to the Chasan firm and Olivieri subsequently went on the bench.
One of Lamparello’s most impressive skills is that he has an ability to see all sides of a case, because he has done it all, according to those who know him.
Because of that skill, in court Lamparello is a formidable adversary, said Peter F. Bariso Jr., the assignment judge in Hudson County. The two met while dueling in a civil case in Jersey City in the mid 1980s, and later merged their firms.
“Ralph definitely has a strong side. If he believes in something and is advocating a position, he’s a strong advocate, but he is always able to look at a different perspective,” he said.
Assignment Judge Patricia Costello, who sits in Newark, also had high praise for Lamparello, a longtime friend.
“He is, in two words: talented and tenacious. He’s a vigorous advocate and very loyal to clients and colleagues,” Costello said. “If I’m looking to go into battle, he’s my number one pick.”
Neary, who worked alongside Lamparello in a high-profile federal case against the mayor of Guttenberg and his wife, described his talents in the courtroom as impressive.
“Ralph is never loud, but he bores in,” said Neary. “His toughness in cross-examination is extraordinary.”
Lamparello says he’s had many proud moments in his legal career, and some lows, too. One of the proudest was his successful representation of an indigent truck driver charged in the murder of a liquor storeowner. “He had met some guys in a bar, and they asked him for a ride. I don’t believe he had a clue what was going on,” Lamparello said. One of the lows was the time he recommended an 80-year-old client reject a $300,000 settlement offer. “Then the jury came back with a no cause,” he said.
He can also appreciate the lighter moments.
He recounted a big trial, in Mays Landing, where his client — quite possibly a member of organized crime — was charged with extortion, loan sharking, and assault with a deadly weapon.
“When the jury came in, the judge asked, ‘What is your verdict?’ The foreman said, ‘We find the defendant not guilty.’ My client, without missing a beat, says, ‘On what count?’ The foreman says, ‘On all counts.’ My client shouts, ‘Mamma mia!’ Was it a proud moment? No, but certainly one of the funniest,” recalled Lamparello, who says the client still owes him his fee.
Service to the Legal Community
Lamparello got involved in professional organizations early on in his legal career.
He is a past president of the Hudson County Bar Association, a trustee of the Association of the Federal Bar of the State of New Jersey and is a member of the American Bar Association, the Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys of New Jersey, Association of Trial Lawyers of America – New Jersey, the Hispanic Bar Association, the New York State Bar Association and the New Jersey State League of Municipalities-New Jersey Institute of Local Government. He is also a master of the American Inns of Court – Hudson Inn.
Lamparello has been a member of the NJSBA since 1989, and in that time has been involved with several groups and efforts. He is a former chair of the association’s Judicial and Prosecutorial Appointments Committee and the Meeting Arrangements and Program Committee. He serves as a trustee of the New Jersey State Bar Foundation and chairs its Law Center Committee and is a former chair of its Investment Committee.
“My involvement in the state bar association stems from a core value that all lawyers share: an abiding commitment to the legal profession, and a belief in the intrinsic and historic value of our profession to society,” said Lamparello.
His colleagues in the state bar association said he has a track record for getting things done in a fair and equitable manner.
The same talents he exhibits in the courtroom will make him a strong leader for the association, said Susan A. Feeney, immediate past president of the state bar association.
“He is a dedicated lawyer– always has the interests of the NJSBA at heart. As a leader he listens to different opinions, and, even at times, can be swayed. Then he will make a decision and plan a course of action to accomplish the goal,” said Feeney.
Added Lynn Newsome, a former state bar president: “He is the most responsible person I know. If he’s your go-to guy, don’t worry. It’s done. And it was done yesterday. I don’t know a lot of people like that.”
His strategic and analytical skills that make him a tenacious litigator and his practical street smarts will serve him well as president, said Wayne Positan, a former association president.
“Lamparello’s Hudson County roots show in his keen political savvy which will be very helpful in leading our association in its critically important relationships and interactions with the governor, Judiciary and Legislature,” said Positan.
Two years ago, Lamparello was key to a $6 million renovation project to update and overhaul the New Jersey Law Center, the 26-year-old New Brunswick building that serves as a focal point for the state’s legal community and residents in search of guidance on legal issues, recalled NJSBA Executive Director Angela Scheck.
“Ralph served as chair of the Law Center Committee and was instrumental in everything from fundraising to yanking out the dead bushes in front of the building,” said Scheck. “He was willing to get involved in all aspects of the project, and even tried to help pick out the fabrics and colors for the wallpaper and furniture. I did draw the line at a point.”
Lamparello continues to chair the Law Center Committee today and takes an active role in the continual upgrade and management of the building. He said he is most proud of his work with regard to the Law Center renovation project, as it keeps the building functioning as a learning center for lawyers and the public alike.
“It was extremely gratifying to see the hard work of the committee members and generous donations translated into real improvements that are keeping the Law Center more in-line with current design, technology and efficiency, as well as providing our visitors with greater service, comfort and amenities,” said Lamparello
The Year Ahead
Lamparello said he will spend the next year addressing the ongoing threats to judicial independence as well as shine a spotlight on the extraordinary lawyers who make up the ranks of the state’s attorneys.
For Lamparello, the efforts he has made to improve the practice of law and guard the integrity of the judicial system are not just personal accomplishments, but rather bolster his belief in the value and importance of the community of lawyers who call New Jersey home.
To highlight the importance of a fair and impartial judicial system, Lamparello convinced over 70 judges from nearly every bench in the state to take part in the Annual Meeting and Convention. Also at the gathering, a trio of seminars will examine the issue of access to justice by looking at everything from the way judges and lawyers enabled the Holocaust, to the ongoing political pressures facing judges in New Jersey and around the country.
“This is one of the most critical issues facing not just the legal community, but society at large. An independent Judiciary is a cornerstone of democracy, and we have an important role — to examine the problem, offer insights about the path forward and advocate for solutions. We are sworn officers of the court and that means we have a moral imperative to improve the system each day,” said Lamparello.
In addition, Lamparello said he wanted to honor the contributions lawyers make not just to the law, but also to the community. The diversity of experiences, backgrounds and personal stories of the state’s lawyers result in a richness of the profession that is unparalleled, he said.
“I am so proud to be a New Jersey lawyer. I am deeply humbled by the many amazing lawyers who call the NJSBA and New Jersey home. A lot of people talk the talk, but nobody walks the walk like New Jersey lawyers. I want to celebrate them in the year ahead,” said Lamparello.