Freda Wolfson, the chief judge of the US District Court for the District of New Jersey who retired Tuesday, is joining Lowenstein Sandler as a partner.
The move after 36 years as a US magistrate and federal trial court judge represents a homecoming for Wolfson, who began her career at what is now Lowenstein Sandler in 1979.
“It is bittersweet,” said Wolfson. “It’s been a real honor for me to do the work and particularly to be chief for the last three and a half years. I’m excited about going to do something new again rather than going senior and doing a reduced workload.”
Wolfson will lead the firm’s alternative dispute resolution practice and she will also focus on special masters appointments in multidistrict litigation, monitorships, and preside over mock trials.
She’ll be working alongside Christopher Porrino, chair of the firm’s litigation department and former New Jersey state attorney general, who clerked for Wolfson three decades ago. Three other former Wolfson clerks also work at the firm, she said, and her career law clerk of 15 years is making the move alongside her.
In a statement, Porrino said, “Judge Wolfson was my boss, a mentor and now — thirty years after serving as her law clerk — it is my honor to call Judge Wolfson my partner.”
Wolfson, who grew up in Vineland, N.J. as the daughter of refugees, graduated from Rutgers University, Douglass College and the Rutgers School of Law - Newark.
She became a US magistrate judge in New Jersey in 1986 at the age of 32 and was the only full-time female magistrate judge in the district until 2000, she said.
In 2012, she was confirmed to the district court, where she has been assigned five different multidistrict litigation cases, including the second-largest-ever involving 40,000 cancer lawsuits over the now-withdrawn Johnson & Johnson baby powder.
A three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled Jan. 30 that J&J can’t use bankruptcy to resolve the lawsuits. Wolfson said the timing of the decision “was a bit ironic the day before I’m leaving.” The multidistrict litigation panel had already met and reassigned the case last week, she said.
Her time as chief judge coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic and the murder of her colleague Judge Esther Salas’s son in 2020. A disgruntled lawyer shot and killed Daniel Anderl at their family home and wounded his father, Mark.
The murder “rocked us all,” said Wolfson, who praised Salas’s “tireless” work pressing for legislation protecting judges’ personal information.
Wolfson noted that six judges have been confirmed in the district in the last two years and two more nominees are pending in the Senate. Another judge, Kevin McNulty, has announced plans to take senior status later this year.
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