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NJ Commission on Professionalism presents annual awards to three exemplary attorneys, dozens more recognized as Professional Lawyer of the Year

The New Jersey Commission on Professionalism in the Law honored three distinguished attorneys and dozens more at its annual awards that recognize excellence in the law.

The commission’s most prestigious awards, presented July 12 at Forsgate Country Club in Monroe Township, paid tribute to three individuals who uphold the profession’s highest ideals and who have significant career achievements. Dozens of attorneys from bar associations across the state also earned accolades with Professional Lawyer of the Year Awards, given to those who are respected by colleagues for their character, competence and exemplary professional behavior.

Top honors at the ceremony went to:
Joseph LaSala, who received the Daniel J. O’Hern Award, given to an attorney who exhibits integrity, competence, high ethical standards, career achievement and service to the bar;
Colleen M. Cunningham, recognized with the Charles J. Hollenbeck Award, which honors an attorney in a governmental agency or nonprofit organization; and
• Retired Assignment Judge Peter F. Bariso Jr. with the Lighthouse Award, for his community-based efforts that served as an inspiration to colleagues.

The award winners represent the best of the legal profession – those who adhere to the highest ethical standards and are known for their legal acumen, public service and for inspiring other attorneys to succeed, said retired state Supreme Court Justice Barry T. Albin, who served as the master of ceremonies.

“All of the attorneys we honor today – the three main award recipients and the attorneys selected by the county and affinity bar associations – have been chosen by their colleagues for their exemplary character, abilities and professional conduct. There is no higher honor than recognition by one’s peers,” Justice Albin said.

LaSala, a partner at McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, led a series of speeches from the three top winners by remembering the quiet dignity and razor-sharp intellect of late Justice O’Hern, the former state Supreme Court justice for whom for award is named.

“I would be much more comfortable presenting the award to him,” LaSala said.

A seasoned civil attorney of more than 40 years, LaSala has extensive experience in practice areas ranging from product liability actions and multi-party toxic tort litigation to corporate dissolutions and environmental coverage matters. In 2017, he was awarded the New Jersey State Bar Foundation’s Medal of Honor in recognition of his exemplary contributions to improving the justice system and serving the greater New Jersey legal community. He was also honored by the Essex County Bar Association in 2008 with a lifetime achievement award.

“I am truly thrilled, humbled and honored beyond words to be just one of the 2023 awards recipients, and particularly overwhelmed to receive one named after the late great Justice Daniel J. O’Hern,” LaSala said. “Over my 50 years at the bar, I would be remiss if I didn’t indicate that I have seen and experienced countless wonderful, skilled lawyers in every aspect of our profession.”

Cunningham has become the “Mother Theresa of Sussex County,” Justice Albin said, serving underprivileged clients as an attorney with Legal Services of Northwest New Jersey, a nonprofit law firm that provides free legal aid. For more than 20 years she has represented individuals in criminal, civil and family law and has extensive experience in life planning and guardianship matters.

“While we sometimes lose our way and our perspectives become blurred, I’ve tried to keep a steady moral compass along my path and I hope I’ve made my friends, family and colleagues proud,” Cunningham said.

Assignment Judge Bariso, a retired Superior Court judge of 16 years who also served assignment judge in Hudson County, has decades of experience consulting on complex litigation matters affecting both private and public sector clients. The former assignment judge, of Chasan Lamparello Mallon & Cappuzzo, is a frequent lecturer on civil litigation issues for the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education, earning the NJICLE Alfred C. Clapp Award for Excellence in Continuing Legal Education in 2015. He also volunteers with programs that help develop strong, ethical and confident young lawyers.

A “judge’s judge and lawyer’s lawyer,” according to Justice Albin, Assignment Judge Bariso said he had a great support mechanism throughout his career in his family, assistants, law clerks and judges he presided over in Hudson County.

“There are many of you out there who have been integral to my success. One thing I learned along the way is that you should do as I do, not as I say. I always thought, ‘Don’t tell someone to do something that you’re not willing to do yourself.’ It sets a bad example,” Assignment Judge Bariso said. “As lawyers and judges, we just want to make the profession better.”

A full list of the Professional Lawyer of the Year Award recipients:

Atlantic County Bar Association – Steven K. Johnson
Bergen County Bar Association – Raymond F. Flood
Burlington County Bar Association – Michael C. Mormando
Camden County Bar Association – Luke Griffith (posthumously)
Cape May County Bar Association – F. Thomas Hillegass (ret.)
Cumberland County Bar Association – Michael J. Gaffney
Essex County Bar Association – Gwendolyn J. Williams
Gloucester County Bar Association – Susan M. Purvin
Hudson County Bar Association – John J. Curley
Hunterdon County Bar Association – Alisa Grossman
Mercer County Bar Association – Frank P. Spada Jr.
Middlesex County Bar Association – Daria A. Venezia
Monmouth Bar Association – James M. McGovern Jr.
Morris County Bar Association – Kurt W. Krauss
Passaic County Bar Association – Sumana Mitra
Salem County Bar Association – Richard F. Klineburger III
Somerset County Bar Association – Victoria D. Britton
Sussex County Bar Association – Gary A. Kraemer
Union County Bar Association – Hon. Karen M. Cassidy (ret.)
Warren County Bar Association – Kerry E. Cahill
Asian Pacific American Lawyers Association – Qing Guo
Association of Black Women Lawyers of NJ – Tiffany Williams Brewer
Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers of NJ – Aidan P. O’Connor
Association of the Federal Bar of NJ – Sabrina G. Comizzoli
Garden State Bar Association – Candace R. Johnson
Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey – Tabatha L. Castro
New Jersey Association for Justice Inc. – Michael G. Donahue, III
New Jersey Defense Association – Ryan A. Richman
New Jersey Muslim Lawyers Association – Aymen Aboushi
New Jersey State Bar Association – Heather G. Suarez (posthumously)
New Jersey Women Lawyers Association – Sharmila D. Jaipersaud
South Asian Bar Association of New Jersey – Rachna B. Malkana
Trial Attorneys of New Jersey – Emily A. Kaller

July 18, 2023
Contact: Thomas Nobile
Director of Communications
Tel: 732-937-7527
[email protected]

Contact: NJSBA Communications Department
Tel: 732-937-7527
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