The New Jersey State Bar Foundation’s highest award—the prestigious Medal of Honor—will be presented to the Hon. Marie White Bell, a retired superior court judge in Burlington County and Joseph P. LaSala, a partner in the law firm of McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter LLP in Morristown. The award, given each year to those who have made exemplary contributions to improving the justice system and enhancing New Jersey’s legal legacy, will be presented at the Foundation’s Annual Medal of Honor Awards Dinner Reception on Monday, September 18, at The Palace at Somerset Park in Somerset.
Blazing Her Own Trail
“Judge Marie White Bell has demonstrated a profound commitment to the justice system with her long and celebrated judicial career,” said NJSBF President Lynn Fontaine Newsome. “A trailblazer, she represents the highest judicial standards and dedication to the bench and bar. The Foundation is pleased to present her with its Medal of Honor.”
Judge Bell enjoyed a 12-year career as a research biologist with Hoffman-LaRoche Pharmaceutical, where she specialized in parasitology and virology, before embarking on a legal career. Attending law school at night while working full-time, she earned her law degree in 1973 and became the first African American to serve as a law clerk for Superior Court Judge Alexander Wood III in Burlington County. In fact, her career has been marked by many “firsts,” and her accomplishments were often as either the only African American female or sometimes the only African American to serve in various positions. In May 1978, Judge Bell was appointed by Governor Brendan Byrne to serve on the Board of Governors of Rutgers University and in 1980, she was elected as the first African American mayor of Willingboro.
“I have been so fortunate and privileged to have had the opportunity to engage in public service,” Judge Bell said. “It is so special to be recognized by this Foundation, known for its pursuit of public education, scholarship and philanthropic contributions. My thanks and gratitude to the New Jersey State Bar Foundation for recognizing me as a recipient for the Medal of Honor.”
From 1981 to 1996, Judge Bell served as a municipal court judge for either the Township of Willingboro or the City of Camden. In 1997, Judge Bell was confirmed as a Superior Court judge, becoming the first African American female judge in Burlington County and serving until her mandatory retirement at age 70. She was then recalled to the bench to oversee the Burlington County’s domestic violence docket from 2006 to 2016 when she celebrated her second mandatory retirement at age 80.
Committed to serving the Burlington County community even in retirement, Judge Bell has returned to the Rotary Club of Willingboro Township and actively participates as a member of the Burlington County Juvenile Delinquency Prevention Policy Board and Tabernacle Baptist Church in Burlington City. She has served on numerous boards and committees throughout her legal career, including as chairperson of the Burlington County Advisory Board on the Status of Women, vice president of the Willingboro Democratic Club, trustee of the Hunterdon State School for the Retarded, co-chairperson of the Sensitivity and Cultural Awareness Now Committee (SCAN) of Camden County, trustee of the Willingboro Public Library, and as a member of the Moorestown League of Women Voters and the Board of Directors of the South Jersey Leukemia Society. In addition, Governor Brendan Byrne appointed Judge Bell to Rutgers University Board of Governors, where she served from 1978 to 1983.
Judge Bell has been an active participant in many local, state and national bar organizations, including the New Jersey State Bar Association’s Dispute Resolution Committee, the Committee on the Aged, and a delegate to the State Bar Association’s General Counsel, the Burlington County Bar Association’s Bench and Bar Committees for Family Part and Municipal Court, Professionalism Committee and Judicial Appointments Committee, and the Trial Lawyers Association of New Jersey. She has lectured on women’s rights at Willingboro High School’s Adult Education Program, McGuire Air Force Base and for the YWCA Lecture Series.
Judge Bell is a graduate of Lycoming College and Seton Hall University School of Law. Currently residing in Springfield Twp (Burlington County), NJ, Judge Bell is proud of her upbringing in York, PA, where she lived with her parents Alfoster and Mary White.
A Credit to the Profession
“The New Jersey State Bar Foundation is proud to bestow its highest honor on Joseph P. LaSala for his distinguished career and his commitment to the organized bar,” said NJSBF President Lynn Fontaine Newsome. “Recognized with many prestigious awards for his professionalism, he epitomizes the qualities that a Medal of Honor recipient should have.”
Practicing law for more than 40 years, Mr. LaSala is well-respected in his profession and is often referred to as a “lawyer’s lawyer.” Most recently, in January 2017, Governor Chris Christie appointed him as the new chairman of the New Jersey State Ethics Commission. Mr. LaSala began his legal career as a law clerk to the Hon. Anthony T. Augelli, former Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey and is admitted to practice in New Jersey and New York, the United States District Courts for the District of New Jersey, the Northern, Southern and Eastern Districts of New York, the District of Colorado, the Second and Third Circuit Courts of Appeals, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, the United States Supreme Court, and the United States Tax and Claims Courts. Mr. LaSala has extensive experience in complex litigation including product liability actions, multi-party toxic tort litigation, asbestos litigation, benzene litigation, corporate dissolutions, commercial litigation, environmental coverage matters, securities cases, patent cases, and defense of professional liability actions against Attorneys, accountants, architects, and engineers.
“In looking at the names of the prior honorees and the criteria for receiving the Medal of Honor, I am completely humbled and overwhelmed,” said Mr. LaSala. “It is especially rewarding to receive the Medal so soon after my colleague, the Hon. Lawrence M. Lawson, in 2015. On behalf of my family and myself, our deepest thanks to the Foundation for this wonderful honor.”
He has served as a Liquidating Trustee for the U.S. District Court where over $250 million dollars has been recovered for defrauded shareholders. Mr. LaSala is a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and was a Master of the Essex Inns of Court, Arthur T. Vanderbilt Chapter, from 1988 to 1992. He was a Master and Co-Coordinator of the Seton Hall Law Alumni Inn of Court since its inception. Listed in Super Lawyers®, a Thomson Reuters business, in the areas of General Litigation, Class Action/Mass Torts and Closely Held Business since its inception in New Jersey in 2005 through 2017, Mr. LaSala was also listed in their Top 10 Lawyers for 2009 and 2010 and was listed in their Top 100 Lawyers for every other year. He was recently recognized in 2017 Chambers USA as a Leading Lawyer in the area of Litigation: General Commercial. In addition, Mr. LaSala has been listed in Best Lawyers® (2011-2017), a Woodward/White, Inc. business and partners with U.S. News & World Report, in the areas of Bet-the-Company Litigation and Commercial Litigation.
Mr. LaSala was named one of the Golden Lion Honorees at the Sons of Italy, New Jersey Foundation, Inc.’s Purple Aster Ball in April 2016. This foundation recognizes distinguished Italian Americans who are well recognized in their professions.
Mr. LaSala sat on the Seton Hall University Board of Regents and Board of Trustees and currently sits on and is Chair of the Seton Hall Law School Board of Visitors. He is a Fellow of the American Bar Association, Past-President of the Essex County Bar Association, and previously served on the nominating committee of the New Jersey State Bar Association. He is Past-President of the Trial Attorneys of New Jersey and Past-President of the Legal Services Foundation of Essex County, as well as a trustee of the Association of the Federal Bar of the State of New Jersey. Mr. LaSala is also a Fellow of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers.
A former Chairman and Treasurer of the Essex County Improvement Authority, in 1986 Mr. LaSala was appointed by the New Jersey Supreme Court to the District Fee Arbitration Committee and served as Committee Chairman for several years. He was an arbitrator for the United States District Court, District of New Jersey. Among his many prestigious awards, Seton Hall University School of Law presented him with its Distinguished Graduate award in 1991, and Seton Hall University named him Distinguished Graduate in 1996. Mr. LaSala has received the Professional Lawyer of the Year Award from the New Jersey Commission on Professionalism in the Law on behalf of the Essex County Bar Association, the New Jersey State Bar Association and the Association of the Federal Bar of the State of New Jersey.
A graduate of Saint Peter’s College and Seton Hall University School of Law, Mr. LaSala resides in North Caldwell, with his wife Debra.
The Foundation’s Annual Medal of Honor Awards Reception begins at 6 p.m. on Monday, September 18, and is open to everyone. For more information, please contact Cynthia Pellegrino at the Bar Foundation at 732-937-7507, [email protected]; or mail a check for $200 per person made payable to the New Jersey State Bar Foundation, to the New Jersey State Bar Foundation Medal of Honor Awards Dinner, One Constitution Square, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-1520, no later than September 11. To order tickets online click here. To place a congratulatory message to Judge Bell or Mr. LaSala in the program journal, please contact Cynthia Pellegrino at [email protected] or 732-937-7507.