The New Jersey State Bar Foundation’s highest award—the prestigious Medal of Honor—will be presented to retired Superior Court Judge Marie White Bell and Joseph P. LaSala, the chair of the state ethics commission.

Given each year to those who have made exemplary contributions to improving the justice system and enhancing New Jersey’s legal legacy, the awards will be presented at a dinner on Monday, Sept. 18, at The Palace at Somerset Park in Somerset.

“In looking at the names of the prior honorees and the criteria for receivingthe Medal of Honor, I am completely humbled and overwhelmed,” said LaSala, a partner in the Morristown firm of McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter LLP.

“I have been so fortunate and privileged to have had the opportunity to engage in public service,” said Bell, who was also the first African-American mayor of Willingboro. “It is so special to be recognized by this foundation, known for its pursuit of public education, scholarship and philanthropic contributions.”

A trailblazer

NJSBF President Lynn Fontaine Newsome called Bell a “trailblazer.” Bell attended law school at night while working full-time as a research biologist at Hoffman-LaRoche. She earned her J.D. in 1973 and went on to become the first African-American woman to serve as a law clerk for Superior Court Judge Alexander Wood III in Burlington County. She made local history again with her mayoral election in 1980.

Bell was a municipal court judge in Willingboro and Camden before becoming the first African-American woman appointed to the superior court bench in Burlington County in 1997, where she served until mandatory retirement at age 70. She was then asked to return to the bench to oversee the county’s domestic violence docket from 2006 to 2016, when she celebrated her second retirement at age 80.

Bell remains involved in a number of civic groups in Burlington County. She has been active in many local, state and national bar organizations, serving on key committees, including those focusing on dispute resolution and issues involving the aged.

Four decades of service

LaSala’s distinguished legal career has spanned more than 40 years. He clerked for federal court Judge Anthony T. Augelli of the District of New Jersey. In his practice, LaSala has extensive complex litigation experience in environmental, securities and patent cases, as well as defense of professional liability actions. He has also served as a liquidating trustee for the U.S. District Court, where over $250 million has been recovered for defrauded shareholders, and was appointed chair of the New Jersey State Ethics Commission by Governor Chris Christie in January.

LaSala has received many accolades, and is chair of the Seton Hall Law School Board of Visitors. He is a fellow of the American Bar Association, a past president of the Essex County Bar Association, and previously served on the nominating committee of the New Jersey State Bar Association. He lives in North Caldwell with his wife, Debra.

Join the celebration

The foundation’s awards reception begins at 6 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 18, and is open to everyone. For more information, or to place a congratulatory message for the awardees, contact Cynthia Pellegrino at 732-937-7507 or

Dinner tickets may be purchased by mailing a check for $200 per person made payable to the New Jersey State Bar Foundation, to the New Jersey State Bar Foundation Medal of Honor Awards Dinner, One Constitution Square, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-1520, no later than Sept. 11.