With honor

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Not many folks enter courthouses happily – except perhaps for a marriage or an adoption.

But today my family gets to do just that as we gather to witness and celebrate the public swearing-in of my brother, Tom McCloskey, as a judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey.

It’s a day that marks a moment of great pride for our family and, for him, the capstone of a stellar legal career and a true validation of all his hard work.

It’s also a day for me, as the younger sister (by two years) who’s traveled a bit along the same career path, to reflect on the roads we’ve traveled -- together for a time in college and again in law school, and apart after that.

Like many siblings, Tom and I are alike in some ways, but different in more.

He’s the extrovert to my introvert.  He relishes the long story, while I’m a woman of far fewer words.

On our separate legal journeys, I started my family early on; Tom did a little later.

I jumped around a bit, in private practice in New Jersey and New York and then returned to New Jersey as a government lawyer. Tom by and large stayed in New Jersey in private practice with some prestigious firms. Over time he became an accomplished trial attorney, and I remained the reluctant litigator.

I had the great good fortune after law school to clerk for the Honorable L. Anthony Gibson when he presided over the Chancery Division in Atlantic City, at a time when New Jersey was just gaining a foothold in the casino industry.

My year with Judge Gibson was one of those treasured life experiences, a time when you realize you’re in the presence of someone and something special.

Everyone loved Judge Gibson.  He had a way of looking at people while they spoke that made them feel like they had his absolute attention and respect.  And they did.

Trial attorneys appreciated his experience as one of their own.  The courthouse staff, whose life stories he took the time to learn, cherished his warmth. And ordinary folks who appeared in his courtroom left feeling that they’d been treated with dignity, regardless of the outcome.

As many a sophisticated out-of-town attorney would soon learn when landing in the Atlantic County Courthouse, Judge Gibson was a force to be reckoned with, though not in a swashbuckling way. He was brilliant, sharp and funny (and I imagine he still is). He did not suffer fools gladly and expected excellence from the attorneys who appeared before him and from those who served with him.

For all those reasons, Judge Gibson was one of the best.  He was a great judge, though, because he was (and is) a good and decent man who never forgot that it was his honor and privilege to serve those who stepped foot in his courtroom, and his obligation to provide them with their day in court and their deserved justice.

I say all this because when Tom first told me that he’d been nominated for a judgeship and that a confirmation just might happen, I immediately thought of Judge Gibson and the formative role he played in shaping my career both as a lawyer and a professional.

“You’ll be great,” I told him. “One of the best, like Judge Gibson.”

Tom and I had a text exchange the other day, just before he was about to head off for his calendar call. It was the beginning of the first real full week of his tenure on the bench.

“I am absolutely going to love this job – you have no idea,” he wrote.

I do have an idea, though, because for one brief year I had the opportunity to work alongside one of the best in the business.

And I can speak with some authority, as the person who’s known him longest (other than our mother), when I say that Tom too will be one of the best -- for his intellect and his demeanor, surely, and for his genuine love for people.

He’ll be a great judge, though, because above all else, he is a good and decent man.

And I’m certain he will never forgot that it is his privilege to serve all those who step foot in his courtroom and his obligation to provide them with their day in court and mete out their deserved justice.

With honor.