For more than three decades, the Historical Society of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey has been celebrating the fascinating 225-plus year history of our District Court, the second oldest in the Nation.
The Historical Society was formed in 1987. Our first project was a celebration of this Court’s bicentennial in 1989. Since that milestone event, the Historical Society has grown and continuously expanded its service to the District Court under the leadership of its Board, Judicial Advisors, and past Presidents – Donald A. Robinson, Esq. from 1987 to 2006, the Honorable Douglas E. Arpert, U.S.M.J. from 2006 to 2009, the Honorable Leda Dunn Wettre, U.S.M.J. from 2009 to 2015, and Keith J. Miller, Esq. from 2015 to the present.
During its active thirty-plus years of existence, one of the many focuses of the Historical Society has been educating the District Court’s legal community about the Court’s history through a variety of programs. Among these were the acclaimed reenactment and videotaping of the “Camden 28 trial,” which aired on public television; tributes to our Magistrate Judges and Bankruptcy Judges; a program on the fascinating history of the Court’s Lady Justice statue; an event honoring each Chief Judge throughout the District’s history; a recreation of a Colonial era trial presided over by the Court’s first District Judge, David Brearley, and performed at the Brearley House in Lawrenceville, New Jersey; and a program celebrating the contributions of the State’s three law schools. These events have not only been informative but also have provided many opportunities for camaraderie between the Bench and Bar.
The Society’s efforts to preserve the Court’s legacy have resulted in lasting contributions. The Society commissioned a comprehensive history of the Court written by historical scholar Mark Lender titled This Honorable Court, which is believed to be the only book in the country about a District Court’s history. The book, published by Rutgers University Press, is offered for sale in the bookstore of the Supreme Court of the United States. Another lasting contribution of the Society has been to take oral histories of many notable members of the Bench and Bar, which are preserved on the Society’s website. The Society also regularly collects, catalogues and preserves historical Court-related documents in its archives. And it publishes a semi-annual newsletter, Nunc Pro Tunc, which reviews its many Court-related activities and includes quality articles on the history of the Court written by its members and judicial advisors.
As part of the Historical Society’s mission, it also has acted as a custodian of historic Courthouse artwork. It sponsored the re-creation by artists of two WPA murals that had inadvertently been destroyed. It assisted in restoring and celebrating the historic Charles Ward murals in the Trenton courthouse. It found and restored a lost Eagle statue that had once adorned the original Newark Courthouse. And it identified and catalogued in a color booklet the many portraits of the Court’s Judges that are displayed in the Courthouses of all three vicinages, as well as arranged for the display of copies of those portraits in the Courthouses.
Another Society goal has been to enhance the experience of practitioners. It created three Lawyers Lounges in the Camden, Trenton and Newark Courthouses dedicated to Judges Stanley S. Brotman, George H. Barlow and Lawrence A. Whipple. Exhibits in each of those rooms memorialize their careers. The Society also sponsors annual judicial receptions for the Court’s Judges and the Society’s members and a swearing-in for its members to the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States, preceded by a memorable breakfast in that Court.
The Society also seeks to involve the entire Court community in its activities. The Society sponsors an annual essay scholarship contest for Court employees. It hosted a tribute to the Federal Family groups, including the Clerks’ Offices and Probation and Pretrial Services. And it always has welcomed Courthouse personnel to its events, resulting in their enthusiastic participation, which has contributed greatly to the Society’s success.
The Historical Society is proud of its service to the Court and Federal Bar. We hope that its activities have increased interest in the Court’s history and enhanced the enjoyment of practice in this historic District. Most importantly, we continue in our tradition of effectively moving forward by, in the words of former Chief Judge Gerry, “reaching beyond ourselves in the service of the Court.”