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Civil Trial Bar Honors Its Own With McLaughlin Awards

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The Civil Trial Bar Section honored Anita R. Hotchkiss and Robert F. Novins on Sept. 17 during the annual James J. McLaughlin Award dinner at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick. The McLaughlin Award is presented for demonstrating civility, legal competence and professionalism in the practice of civil trial law.

Hotchkiss is a principal with the Morristown law firm of Porzio, Bromberg & Newman. Novins, a partner in the Toms River law firm of Novins, York & Pentony, lost his life in a car accident this past January. His family accepted the posthumous award.

James McLaughlin of McLaughlin & Cooper in Trenton and the award’s namesake has known Hotchkiss for 25 years and knew Novins for over 40 years.

“They’re both outstanding trial lawyers whose professionalism has been recognized on many occasions in the past,” he says. “They’re worthy recipients of any honors such as this and they have both honored the profession of trial practice over their distinguished careers.”

Anita R. Hotchkiss

Hotchkiss is a member of the Litigation Department at Porzio, Bromberg & Newman and she chairs the pharmaceutical and medical device product liability practice group. Attorneys at the firm say her passion and enthusiasm for her work is contagious and that her tireless efforts on behalf of her clients motivates others.

“Life on the Hotchkiss team is exciting,” says Connie A. Matteo of Porzio, Bromberg & Newman. “The work is challenging and we are often involved in high profile litigation. I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with Anita on several trials and observed her doing what she does best—communicating with a jury.”

Hotchkiss handles complex product liability, pharmaceutical drug and device product liability and medical malpractice claims and she has the ability to make these complex subjects understandable according to Matteo. “She is a terrific communicator, she tells an engaging and compelling story, and her quick mind enables her to effectively cross examine experts and diffuse even the most sympathetic witnesses.”

In a case involving a seriously injured woman who claimed she developed a rare condition as a result of her ingestion of a client’s prescription drug, Hotchkiss obtained the foremost expert on the condition suffered by the plaintiff and skillfully conducted the direct examination of this expert. “Anita’s questioning enabled the expert to present his complicated and highly technical medical testimony in a straight forward manner. In her closing argument, she was able to synthesize two weeks of testimony into four simple questions for the jury. They returned with a no cause verdict,” says Matteo.

In his remarks at the McLaughlin dinner, partner John M. Newman observed that Hotchkiss inspires excellence in those she works with and that she expects nothing less. However, in no way does that limit her outside interests. “Anita is a warm, generous and brilliant attorney who is also an accomplished pianist and someone who breezes through the New York Times crossword puzzle,” says Newman.

In addition to legal competence, the McLaughlin Award is presented for civility and professionalism and colleagues speak highly of Hotchkiss in that regard.

“She generously shares the wealth of her experience with members of her team,” says Matteo. “ She not only teaches the skills necessary to be an effective advocate, but also demonstrates the importance of developing, building and maintaining lasting relationships with clients and peers.”

Hotchkiss is a recipient of the 2001 Professional Lawyer of the Year Award from the New Jersey Commission on Professionalism in the Law and was named by the Medical Herald as one of the nation’s twenty most influential women in the health industry in October 1995.

A past chair of the NJSBA Certified Trial Attorneys Section, she served on the association’s New Jersey Task Force on Women and the Law. Hotchkiss is past president and trustee of the Trial Attorneys of New Jersey and served on the board of trustees and Judicial Appointments Committee for the Morris County Bar Association. She is an elected fellow of the American Bar Foundation and a past chair of the American Bar Association’s Subcommittee on Litigation Management Techniques.

Hotchkiss has lectured for the Institute for Continuing Legal Education, American Law Institute/American Bar Association, Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Trial Attorneys of New Jersey, Defense Research Institute, at New Jersey State Bar Association annual and mid-year meetings, and for other groups.

Robert F. Novins

“It is hard to lose a partner and a friend, it’s a big loss and we miss him,” says Kenneth R. Pentony of Novins, York & Pentony about Robert Novins. “He was a benchmark. To everyone in Ocean County, he was the dean—just an amazing man who loved the law and loved talking the law with experienced and young lawyers.”

Described as a man who loved people and helping people, Novins would take cases turned down by others lawyers and was successful at them. He defended one of the first battered women’s syndrome cases in the 70s, and won. He put a family back together following the defense of a man in a murder case who was found not guilty on the basis of temporary insanity. Years later, that man’s son was rendered a quadriplegic in a tragic water skiing accident and Novins obtained a 2.8 million settlement on his behalf.

“He helped people and he saw being a lawyer as that type of thing,” says Pentony.

Novins achieved notoriety when his name appeared in book written by Wall Street Lawyers naming the best lawyers in the country. “Bob appeared in this book as a criminal defense attorney and was therefore recognized as both a civil and criminal attorney. He did both plaintiff and defense work,” he says.

Novins became known for Rova Farms vs. Investors Insurance Company. In this case, the Supreme Court recognized the issue of bad faith between an insured and the insurer and was a landmark decision. Rovers Farms changed not only New Jersey law, but law in the United States. When Novin’s daughter went to the University of Florida, one of the cases they studied in contracts law was her father’s case.

“Rovers Farms changed the law forever,” says Pentony. “When an attorney simply says Rovers Farms, it means that the insurance carrier is breaching a duty that it owes to its own insured and therefore would be responsible for paying the entire judgment over and above the policy limits. Prior to that case, there was no such consideration. It set the standard.”

Called generous and brilliant, Novins would quote poetry that he remembered from college. “If you were having lunch with Bob, and especially young lawyers, you had better know the Op Ed section of the Times from that morning, or be ready to talk about the book you are reading. Working with him was an education and a privilege. He was a renaissance man,” says Pentony.

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.