Ralph J. Lamparello, CL&L managing partner, has spent the past year serving as President of the New Jersey State Bar Association, the largest legal organization in New Jersey. The year began with his installation at the State Bar’s Annual Meeting, held in May of 2013 and attended by more than 2,500 lawyers, judges, law clerks and other legal professionals. He dedicated the meeting to New Jersey lawyers and to the theme of judicial independence.
In his installation speech, Mr. Lamparello said, “As I have the great privilege of serving the New Jersey State Bar Association and our members as President, I plan to tell people across this state about New Jersey lawyers. My message to them is that when people are in distress, they can count on a New Jersey lawyer, and when people need help, they can count on a New Jersey lawyer.”
As his year of service began, Mr. Lamparello quickly dedicated himself to leading the organization in the fight to preserve the independence of New Jersey’s esteemed judiciary. In appearances throughout the state and in printed editorial pieces in the state’s newspapers, he continued to emphasize the importance of an independent judiciary and highlight the current threats to that independence by the executive and legislative branches of government.
“In arguing for passage of the United States Constitution and an independent judiciary, Alexander Hamilton said ‘the judiciary is beyond comparison the weakest of the three departments of power…’ It has neither the sword of the executive nor the purse of the legislative branch,” Mr. Lamparello explained. “That is why Hamilton argued for the complete independence of the courts of justice.”
During the year, Mr. Lamparello attended numerous meetings of county bar associations, and authored several columns in legal and lay publications that call on our state’s political leaders to respect the judiciary as a co-equal third branch of government. Two of his columns were published in the state’s largest newspaper, The Star-Ledger. He has also attended several American Bar Association sponsored meetings around the country, where he discussed the attacks on judicial independence in New Jersey.
In addition to the NJSBA Annual Meeting in May, Mr. Lamparello led the Association’s members on its November Mid-Year Meeting in Rome, Italy, where he moderated a panel presentation on judicial independence. The program featured a Supreme Court justice, three Assignment Judges and a state Senator. At the invitation of the Dean, he also served on a panel focused on threats to judicial independence, held at Rutgers University School of Law-Newark. Further, at the NJSBA’s 2014 Annual Meeting he moderated a distinguished panel titled Judicial Independence: How Today’s Political Climate Affects our Courts, featuring, among others, former Governor Brendan T. Byrne, and Senators Kevin J. O’Toole and Nicholas Scutari as speakers.
As President, Mr. Lamparello led the organization’s Board of Trustees in adopting a resolution supporting the independence of the judiciary as a cornerstone of our democracy. He also took a leading position in the state’s newspapers when Supreme Court Associate Justice Helen E. Hoens was not renominated for tenure by Governor Chris Christie. He called the failure to nominate Justice Hoens for tenure an “erosion of the independence of our courts, whose role as the third branch of government is to balance the other two branches and to protect the rights of the citizens of this state.”
In published reports throughout the state, Mr. Lamparello criticized the Governor for ignoring the clear intent of the New Jersey Constitution and praised Justice Hoens for serving “honorably, evaluating each case based on the law and on the facts before her. Her opinions were thoughtful and well-reasoned, and she always conducted herself with the utmost professionalism.”
Mr. Lamparello also recently led the NJSBA in adopting a resolution to support the reappointment of New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, whose initial seven-year term on the Court will end in late June. He also worked to secure the support for the same from 20 of New Jersey’s 21 county bar associations.
“Since the New Jersey Constitution created our modern justice system in 1947, no Chief Justice has ever been denied reappointment. The fact that we do not know his status, less than 60 days before the Chief’s initial seven-year term expires, is an unprecedented attack on the judiciary,” Mr. Lamparello stated. On May 21, 2014, Governor Christie announced that he would reappoint Chief Justice Rabner for tenure.
In order to ensure that his initiative has a lasting impact, Mr. Lamparello asked the State Bar Board of Trustees to create an independent Task Force on Judicial Independence. He appointed the 14-member group of retired judges, law professors, esteemed lawyers and members of the public, and tasked them with the mission of making recommendations that will strengthen the independence of our courts.
That Task Force recently held the first of four scheduled public hearings to hear from the legal community and others on issues, concerns and recommendations related to judicial independence in New Jersey. Mr. Lamparello presented the first testimony to the Task Force, on behalf of the NJSBA, and addressed issues ranging from the historic underpinnings of an independent judiciary in our democracy, both state and national, to the reappointment of judges and justices, judicial compensation and senatorial courtesy.
Mr. Lamparello was recognized for his significant efforts on judicial independence with the prestigious Humanitarian Achievement Award from Seton Hall Law School’s Peter W. Rodino Jr. Society (see related story). In accepting the award, he stated “There has been no more paramount issue facing us as a profession than the current threats to weaken our Judiciary, our third, co-equal branch of government, by undermining its independence. We are and we will continue to fight to preserve its integrity and guarantee that our courts are a steadfast, independent and strong guardian for our citizens.”
Mr. Lamparello completed his term as the 115th President of the New Jersey State Bar Association in May, but will continue his efforts to preserve judicial independence in our state so long as there continue to be threats to that independence.