Supreme Court Honors Justice O'HernBy Mike Mathis
JT Briefing Editor
Daniel J. O'Hern Jr. speaks about his father, Supreme Court Associate Justice Daniel J. O'Hern, during a memorial service on Nov. 10. Justice O'Hern, who served nearly 19 years on the Supreme Court, died April 1 at his Little Silver, Monmouth County home. He was 78.
Family, friends and former colleagues of Associate Justice Daniel J. O’Hern joined on Nov. 10 to celebrate the life of a man who was known for expressing legal issues with precision and clarity.
Justice O’Hern, who served nearly 19 years on the Supreme Court, died April 1 at his Little Silver, Monmouth County home. He was 78.
Those who spoke during the service recalled Justice O’Hern as a devout family man to whom humility and character were a person’s most important attributes.
“Importantly, he didn’t change as he acceded to great power,” Associate Justice Virginia A. Long said. “He was never arrogant or overbearing, but always remained humble.”
Justice O’Hern began his public service career as a councilman and later mayor of Red Bank. He was commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, serving under Gov. Brendan Byrne, and then was appointed counsel to the governor before Byrne announced his intention to appoint Justice O’Hern to the Supreme Court on April 20, 1981.
The nomination was submitted to the state Senate on May 4, and Justice O’Hern was confirmed on May 20. He was sworn in on Aug. 6, 1981. He attained tenure in August 1988, when he was reappointed by Gov. Thomas Kean.
Justice O’Hern authored 231 opinions during his tenure, which ran from Aug. 6, 1981 until he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 on May 23, 2000.
John Cromie, an attorney who served as a law clerk to Justice O’Hern during the 1987-1988 term, recalled arriving at Justice O’Hern’s chambers in Red Bank, Monmouth County, somewhat disheveled after being caught outside during a summer rainstorm.
“Justice O’Hern did not put a premium on pretense or fashion,” Cromie said. “He cared more about character than appearance.”
Daniel J. O’Hern Jr. said safeguarding the court’s reputation was paramount to his father. “He never forgot that there was a human face behind every litigant that came before the court,” he said.
Justice O’Hern was born in Red Bank, Monmouth County in 1930. He attended Regis High School in New York and graduated from Fordham College in 1951.
Before graduating from Harvard Law School, he served in the U.S.Navy from 1951 to 1954. He served aboard the USS Essex during the Korean War and was separated at the rank of lieutenant.
“We’ve all been fortunate to benefit from Justice O’Hern’s vision and kindness, his dedication to the Judiciary and his exemplary contributions to the state over the course of decades,” Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said. “We have been privileged to know him, and we will miss him.”
Justice O’Hern is survived by his wife Barbara, five children and eight grandchildren. His funeral was held on April 4 at St. James Roman Catholic Church in Red Bank.