Thomas Prol has become the first attorney in New Jersey history to quit a law job to make himself eligible for a State Bar Association office.
He’s the first because until this month, the Bar never had a rule requiring officers to practice primarily in New Jersey.
Now that it does, Prol is eliminating the out-of-state job that he says has been a "distraction" throughout his run for the Bar post of second vice-president.
He announced Thursday that he will resign as associate general counsel for New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs on June 7 and will move back to New Jersey. He will focus on his private practice here, including work as outside environmental counsel for the Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority.
Prol’s decision comes as the Bar considers whether he is eligible to participate in a runoff election for second vice-president in light of the bylaw change, announced May 7, establishing the in-state practice requirement.
Throughout the campaign, Prol has opposed the bylaw, calling it misguided and unfair, but now that it is in force, he no longer wants it to be an issue.
"I recognize that the membership voted, and I want to respect that," he says. "I realized the New York issue had become a distraction. It took people’s eyes off the real issues, leadership and experience."
Regarding his State Bar service, he says, "I have been doing this for a decade and I want to continue doing what I love."
Prol was elected in May 2012 as Bar secretary with the Nominating Committee’s approval.
But that month, he left his firm, Cleary, Giacobbe, Alfieri & Jacobs in Matawan, and in July accepted the New York government job, which required him to establish residence there.
State Bar officers usually climb the ladder to the presidency in lockstep, but last February, the Nominating Committee declined to nominate Prol for treasurer, the next step up.
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.”
At the time, the bylaws did not require officers to live or work in New Jersey, but Article IV, Section 3, set out factors the committee was to consider in its selection of nominees, including “the extent of practice in the State of New Jersey, including but not limited to government and corporate service.”
Prol decided to run for second vice president when the Nominating Committee’s choice, Angela White Dalton, withdrew to become a state court judge.
Around the same time, a group of Bar members petitioned to place the bylaw revision on the ballot requiring officers and trustees to practice law “primarily in the state of New Jersey.” The revision was approved.
The Bar trustees are now considering whether the new bylaw should apply to Prol in the upcoming runoff, which is required because no candidate got the required 50 percent of the vote. Nancy Erika Smith received 49 percent, Prol 28 percent and Kenneth Vercammen 23 percent.
The runoff could be close because Vercammen’s supporters may go over to Prol. Vercammen wore a Prol campaign sticker at the Bar’s annual meeting in Atlantic City on Thursday and was telling others there that he plans to vote for Prol, now that the out-of-state employment issue has been resolved.
Prol “has devoted a substantial portion of his life to doing this. I’ve told everyone I’ve decided I’m going to vote for Tom Prol. He’s willing to do the work needed,” Vercammen said.
Prol was a founding member and co-chairman of the association’s 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.
Smith, of Montclair’s Smith Mullin, did not return a call Thursday.
No date has been set for the runoff, which will include a contest between two candidates for at-large trustee, Christine Amalfe, who drew 36 percent of the vote, and Christina Vassiliou Harvey, who got 25 percent.