Jul 01, 2024

This article has been reproduced with the permission of the New Jersey State Bar Association.

The New Jersey State Bar Foundation is proud to bestow the 2024 Medal of Honor, the Foundation’s most prestigious award, to Hon. Peter F. Bariso, Jr., A.J.S.C (Ret.)

Assignment Judge Bariso left a lasting impact on the state’s Judiciary in his 16 years on the bench, serving as the presiding judge of the Civil Division and later the assignment judge of the Hudson Vicinage. Assignment Judge Bariso, of Chasan Lamparello Mallon & Cappuzzo, is also a prolific speaker for the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education, having lectured countless attorneys on civil litigation practice and procedure since the 1980s. 

Along with co-Medal of Honor winner Karol Corbin Walker, the retired judge will be honored during an awards ceremony at the Park Chateau in East Brunswick on Sept. 24.

“The Medal of Honor recognizes professional excellence, leadership, commitment and service to the public and legal community. Assignment Judge Bariso and Karol Corbin Walker continue the long line of awardees who embody all of these qualities,” said Charlie Stoia, president of the NJSBF. “The Foundation applauds their outstanding contributions to the legal profession and to the advancement and improvement of the justice system in New Jersey.”

Assignment Judge Bariso spoke recently about his life, career and receiving the Medal of Honor.

How did you develop an interest in the law and what led you to that field?

Perhaps like many of my colleagues, it was a teacher who had a major influence on my career. In my case it was a professor at Rutgers University, Dr. Jonathan Lurie.  He taught a class in American legal history. He also was my adviser. I still have the textbook from that class.

Every year, Dr. Lurie took a sabbatical at Harvard Law School. He invited me one year. I attended a class taught by Archibald Cox, the Special Prosecutor during the Watergate scandal, who was recently fired by President Nixon in the infamous Saturday Night Massacre. Suffice it to say, I was hooked. To this day, I am deeply indebted to Dr. Lurie.

Describe your career arc and what led you to the bench. 

My mother is one of 10 and my father is one of eight. Understandably, as a kid growing up in Paterson, we did not have much, but what we did have was a commitment to the American Dream. You work hard, you study hard and you strive for success. Although law school was a challenge, I was fortunate enough to be selected to Law Review. Judge J. Emmet Cassidy offered me a clerkship in 1979. Judge Cassidy was a role model for me. He was thoughtful, incisive, just and fair. Through him, I received my first employment opportunity with the Lamb firm in Jersey City. I worked there for about seven years and litigated a ton of cases. In those days, they would hand you a file and say, “Here kid, go try this case.” It was baptism by fire. And I loved it. I had great mentors—Ray Lamb, Tom Chappel, (former Assignment Judge) Maurice Gallipoli and Ed DePascale.

From there I branched out on my own and practiced civil litigation for about seven years. It was during that time I met (Past NJSBA President) Ralph Lamparello. We were adversaries during a contentious trial, but as so often happens became friends with a mutual respect. Later I merged my firm with his and became a managing partner there. It was through that relationship that I was fortunate enough to fulfill a dream of my father’s in becoming a judge, the pinnacle of one’s legal career. 

At the time I was successful and had a good career; my children were older. I felt it was time to give back.

How steep was the learning curve when you became a judge?  

I remember everything happening in what seemed like a matter of weeks. In one day, I went before the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate. My first day on the bench, my clerk – who I had just met – came in the chambers around 9:20 a.m. and said there’s a trial. I didn’t even have a yellow pad. It was six months later when I went to judicial orientation. But I was a trial lawyer and I promised that if I was ever fortunate enough to ascend to the bench, I would always remember what it was like to be a working lawyer with the juggling and balancing and overarching need to put bread on the table.

Going from a trial lawyer to a trial judge, the difficulty is learning to be quiet and remembering it’s not my case. My hardest thing was knowing when to interject myself when I felt the balance was tipping. I believe in the adversarial system, but it’s also important to remember that judges aren’t potted plants and we have to make sure that the playing field is even. Being a judge is a little more than just calling balls and strikes.

Through your 16 years on the bench, you presided over some consequential cases. What are some that come to mind?

The first one that comes to mind is a case involving gay conversion therapy. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a consumer fraud action in New Jersey against JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing) in Jersey City to challenge the practice. That whole case was interesting all the way from the pretrial motions through trial. Some aspects of the trial were like a reality show. I kept the case as the Assignment Judge, which is unusual, but as a case of national consequence I felt it was something I should handle.

I did not allow the trial to get out of hand. I constantly reminded the attorneys that it was a consumer fraud action, and we were limited to questions of that nature. This was not a national reckoning on the issue over First Amendment and religious freedom grounds. It was a very powerful case that got global attention. 

In another case, I handled a remand from the Supreme Court on Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome. The Court remanded the case for a hearing on whether evidence on the syndrome met necessary reliability standards. The syndrome was accepted in courts across 40 states, but in our research we found there was never a Frye hearing to determine whether this syndrome met scientific underpinnings. I had hearings with several experts and amicus parties and determined it did not meet the necessary standard. The Supreme Court later adopted my findings in their decision.

What do you think makes a successful judge?

If you asked me that question before I joined the bench, I would have said having trial experience is the most important factor. Now having been in the job, I think the most important trait for a judge is work ethic. You need a good work ethic and you need to be aware of the position you have and the impact it will have on people. Practice skills, common sense and empathy, those are all necessary. But if you don’t have a work ethic, I can’t teach that. You need that quality to succeed. There are people who accept positions for titles. Being a judge is one of the toughest jobs I can think of if you want to do it right.

You have a long history of presenting at CLE seminars. How did you get involved in the educational circuit and why is it important to volunteer your time and expertise for other attorneys?

Again, I must go back to Dr. Lurie – I have always been committed to teaching. My high school and college friend Larry Maron, who would later become a judge himself, solicited my help with the Skills and Method Program. The first one I presented was on civil practice. I continued presenting through the 1980s with various attorneys and judges. Then I started participating in programs for the NJSBA Mid-Year Meeting and later the Annual Meeting. I handled various topics all along civil law. One of my favorite programs was with (retired) Assignment Judge Julio Mendez in Spain that compared the two countries court system. The Mid-Year Meetings are interesting because you meet attorneys from different states and countries.

As far as giving back, I am very fortunate to have had exceptional mentors throughout my career.  We can complain all we want about the state of the profession, but if we want to raise the caliber of attorneys and judges, then it’s incumbent upon the more experienced professionals to mentor attorneys. Sure, it’s time consuming, but the benefit is that if you get one person in the audience to be a better lawyer, it’s a success.

What does receiving the Foundation’s Medal of Honor mean to you? And how do you think the Foundation makes a difference not just for attorneys but the residents of New Jersey?

I’ve been to the Medal of Honor ceremony many times and to join such an illustrious group of attorneys is a tremendous honor. In my 45-year legal career, it’s always rewarding to be recognized by your peers. I had no expectations or had ever even dreamed about this. It’s also nice to know that I’ll be the third person from my law firm to receive the award. It’s a humbling distinction. 

The Foundation serves a vital educational role not provided by enough educational institutions. I’ve always been a big proponent of civics and I don’t think it’s included in enough curriculums. The Foundation fills a rather large gap in teaching students about our society and justice system. I bring the Foundation’s publications home for my nieces and nephews and they love them. The Foundation tries to make the legal system better for everyone. It really fills a void both in education and access to justice.

For more information about the Foundation’s Medal of Honor Awards Dinner, please visit moh.njsbf.org.

No aspect of this advertisement has been approved by the Supreme Court of New Jersey
Award Methodology

Chasan Lamparello
Mallon & Cappuzzo, PC

300 Lighting Way
Suite 200
Secaucus, NJ 07094
phone icon (201) 348-6000
fax icon (201) 348-6633