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Judges Gibson and Keefe to receive McLaughlin Award

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—A retired judge who handled Mt. Laurel challenges and another who managed statewide asbestos litigation will receive the James J. McLaughlin Award from the NJSBA Civil Trial Bar Section on Sept. 25 at the Hyatt in New Brunswick. The section will bestow its annual award to retired Superior Court Judges L. Anthony Gibson and John E. Keefe Sr. for demonstrating civility, legal competence and professionalism in the practice of civil trial law.

“The Civil Trial Bar Section bases its McLaughlin Award nominations on the model of its namesake, Jim McLaughlin,” said section executive committee member Michael P. Madden. “We look for demeanor and professionalism, and it just happens that this year, we are honoring two judges who are wonderful judges and lawyers.”

L. Anthony Gibson

Judge Gibson began his judicial career in October 1977 when he was appointed to the Atlantic County court. Within two years, he was elevated to the Superior Court of New Jersey and in February 1981, only four years after his first appointment to the bench, he was appointed to the prestigious position of presiding judge of the Chancery Division. During this time, the Atlantic County court handled a great deal of litigation involving the county’s economic expansion, particularly cases related to the burgeoning casino industry. In June 1983, Gibson became one of only three judges designated to hear Mt. Laurel challenges.

“Judge Gibson is extremely patient and very professional,” said Madden. “He treats everyone with respect, and he always conveyed a sense of humor even though he did handle some pretty serious cases.”

Since 1981, Gibson served as acting assignment judge of the Atlantic/Cape May vicinage and as a member and vice chairman of the State Judicial Education and Seminars Committee. He is a former chairman of the Supreme Court Committees on Creating a Master Plan for Judicial Education as well as Court House Facilities. He served as a member of the state Judicial Performance Committee and on the Disposition Review Panel for Megan’s Law.

After leaving the bench, Gibson joined the Pleasantville law firm of Youngblood, Corcoran, Lafferty, Hyberg & Waldman, PA as Of Counsel. Youngblood Corcoran partner Randolph Lafferty remarked that Judge Gibson has been a credit to both the bench and bar during his tenure and years of practice.

“He has always had the highest regard for the trial attorney, promoted the preservation of trial advocacy at the highest level and has always demonstrated sincere and genuine compassion for the trial attorneys who appeared before him and with whom he now interacts in his daily practice,” he said.

During his twenty-three years on the bench, Gibson served in the Law and Chancery Divisions, as well as a temporary period in the Appellate Division in 1988.

John E. Keefe Sr.

“A New Brunswick guy through and through,” is one way that John Keefe Jr. describes his dad–the family’s first college graduate who went to Rutgers on a football scholarship, then Rutgers Law School, practiced in a New Brunswick law firm, and then returned to the New Brunswick law firm of Lynch Martin following his retirement from the bench as presiding judge of the Appellate Division in 2001.

“He’s very much a self-made man in terms of my looking up to him, but it’s not so much as a lawyer rather than that he’s a guy with a very straight non-negotiable moral compass in all of his decision making whether it be business or family,” said Keefe Jr.

“His strong moral compass is maybe why people recognize him and think of him as a standout. That’s why he’s been recognized for the award.”

Keefe Sr. was appointed as judge of the Middlesex County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court in 1977 and was elevated to the Law Division of the Superior Court two years later. His responsibility included the management of all statewide asbestos litigation and he developed uniform discovery procedures that were recognized on a national level.

“Judge Keefe designed the entire asbestos litigation which was novel and is still followed,” said Lynch Martin partner James D. Martin. “The mass tort court follows that outline in the mass litigation that they do. He has always been recognized as one of the state’s leading authorities in product liability.”

In 1984, Keefe Sr. was named presiding judge of the Superior Court, Chancery Division, Middlesex County and served in that capacity and as Asbestos judge until his appointment to the Appellate Division in July 1988. His judicial career spanned nearly twenty-five years.

“It was on my watch that the Civil Trial Bar Association created the award that I then presented to Jim McLaughlin,” said Martin.

“Jim is universally recognized as the consummate gentleman, an articulate orator and brilliant attorney. We intended for the award to be presented to attorneys each year who fit that model, and if there is anyone that it applies to, it’s John Keefe.”

During his tenure in the Superior Court, Keefe served on numerous committees and chaired the committees on Model Civil Jury Instructions, Asbestos Litigation and Complex Case Management. In 2001, he received the Distinguished Service Award for Excellence in Legal Education from ICLE.

“The thing that really changed his life and our life was going on the bench at an early age,” said Keefe Jr. “It gave him more time and freedom. He was at all my Little League games and football games. He would come home from court and throw footballs to me in the garage if it was raining.

When he retired from the bench, one of the things that we looked forward to was practicing together. It’s really great that we’re able to work in offices next to each other. He’s always been much more than a judge.”

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.