New Jersey State Bar Association - The voluntary Bar Association of New Jersey, serving members since 1899.

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Amicus Service Awards Presented To 15 Attorneys

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—NJSBA President Stuart Hoberman presented Amicus Service Awards to 15 attorneys on Dec. 16, commending each recipient on their volunteer efforts in 2005, ranging from drafting briefs to participating in oral arguments.

“We are grateful and fortunate to have such talented and committed volunteers among our membership,” Hoberman said during the presentation ceremony. “I am pleased and proud to be able to present them with awards today to recognize their fine efforts on behalf of the association.”

Lewis Stein was honored for drafting the NJSBA brief and presented oral argument in DiProsepero v. Penn, where the Court was asked whether, under the recently enacted Automobile Insurance Cost Reduction Act, plaintiffs who chose the verbal threshold for their auto insurance were still required to show their injuries had a serious life impact, despite the fact that the act contained no such requirement. Mr. Stein pursued a statutory construction argument to advocate for the elimination of the serious life impact requirement, and the Court agreed, holding that the plain language of the statute does not contain such a requirement and nothing in the legislative history or anywhere else suggested that the Legislature intended the Court to write that requirement into the law.

Kate Brown, Bonnie Frost and Amirali Haidri drafted the NJSBA appellate brief in Fischer v. Fischer, a case in which the Appellate Division invited NJSBA participation. At issue in the case was whether a family part judge could order the return of a retainer that had been paid and earned from a withdrawing attorney to permit a litigant to hire another attorney. The NJSBA argued, among other things, that case management authority over a matrimonial action does not extend to fee issues, which are properly addressed through a fee arbitration process or, alternatively, a separate action in the Law Division. The Appellate Division disagreed with the NJSBA’s portrayal of the issue in the case, concluding that the trial judge did not make a final adjudication of whether the withdrawing attorney was entitled to his fee or her at some point; rather the Appellate Division noted the judge properly exercised its equitable powers by ordering a return of the funds to be used elsewhere, while leaving unresolved the withdrawing attorney’s claim to his or her fees. The Appellate Division cautioned, however, that its decision should not be viewed as a panacea for all similar problems that may arise, about which the NJSBA had expressed concern. The Supreme Court denied certification in this matter.

The NJSBA brief in LaManna v. Proformance Insurance Company was expertly drafted by a team of attorneys comprised of Wayne Positan, Dennis Drasco, Kevin O’Connor and Michael Plata. At issue in the case was whether civil litigants can knowingly waive their right to a verdict by no less than a 5/6 majority, and if so, what constitutes a knowing waiver. The NJSBA felt this was an important case in which to participate to preserve jury trials for the future, arguing that the express language of the New Jersey constitution prohibited such a waiver. That argument was bolstered by excerpts from the constitutional convention indicating that the 5/6 requirement was a negotiated compromise, reluctantly agreed to by convention attendees who felt strongly that not just litigants, but the entire judicial system, needed safeguards such as the 5/6 minimum requirement to protect against abuses in the jury system. The Court disagreed, concluding that so long as the party is given fair opportunity to request his or her constitutional right to a civil jury trial subject to a five-sixths verdict, there is no impediment to the parties consenting to waive that right.

Stephen Haller, along with Bonnie Frost, drafted the NJSBA brief in Mani v. Mani, and Ms. Frost presented oral argument. At issue in the case was whether fault issues should play a part in an alimony determination. The Court ultimately agreed with the NJSBA position that only in the most egregious cases should fault play a part in an alimony determination.

Evelyn Storch drafted the NJSBA brief in Jerista v. Murray, urging the Court to not abandon the case within a case analysis in a malpractice action, and arguing that causation must be proved in a legal malpractice case involving an underlying negligence case as in any other negligence case. The Court ultimately agreed, permitting the malpractice action to continue, but only after using res ipsa to establish proximate cause.

Fredrick Dennehy, David Dugan and Irvin Freilich contributed to the NJSBA’s submission in R.M. v. Supreme Court of New Jersey, where an ethics grievant challenged the confidentiality rules concerning grievances against attorneys. The Court held that the First Amendment trumped any benefit attorneys or the justice system would derive from keeping grievances confidential. The ramifications of this ruling are yet to be seen.

Chris Carey and Theodore Hilke drafted the NJSBA brief in Puder v. Buechel. The Court ultimately held that litigants cannot settle a case and place testimony on the record about the acceptability and fairness of the settlement and then bring a malpractice action claiming they should have been entitled to more than the settlement agreement called for.

The New Jersey State Bar Association, incorporated in 1899, is dedicated to the continuing education of lawyers and the public, to reforming and improving the legal system and to aiding in the administration of justice.