Six from South Jersey nominated for judgeships

Posted: June 26, 2014

Among the six South Jersey lawyers Gov. Christie has nominated for Superior Court judgeships is a former high school Spanish teacher at Camden Catholic High School who went on to work as a deputy attorney general and later ran for Congress.

The nominees, announced last week, now must be confirmed by the state Senate. Though they live in Burlington and Camden Counties, they could be assigned to serve their terms anywhere in the state once they are approved.

The nominees are: David M. Ragonese of Haddon Heights; Gerard H. Breland of Burlington Township; Daniel A. Bernardin and Morris G. Smith of Collingswood; Sherri L. Schweitzer of Cherry Hill; and Mark P. Tarantino of Moorestown.

Ragonese, 45, a Republican who ran for Congress in the heavily Democratic Fifth District last year, was a Spanish teacher at Camden Catholic before he attended Rutgers-Camden School of Law and then went on to earn a master of laws degree at Temple University's Beasley School of Law.

A former state deputy attorney general, he is with a Cherry Hill firm, where he represents individuals, corporations, and government agencies in insurance and commercial litigation. He also is an adjunct professor at Rutgers and at Seton Hall Law School, and has published two articles on "pay to play" ordinances, according to a biography released by the governor's office.

"I'm honored and humbled by the governor's nomination," Ragonese said.

The South Jersey nominees are among 11 statewide.

Breland, an assistant Hudson County prosecutor, has litigated 70 criminal cases and six civil cases in 25 years, including a high-profile murder trial that included an allegation of juror intimidation.

A Democrat, Breland, 51, earned his law degree from Georgetown University Law Center. He also prosecuted a case that led to a state Supreme Court decision regarding warrantless car searches.

"I just hope to do the best I can, and be fair and just in my role as a judge," Breland said.

Bernardin, 58, a Democrat, has served as a municipal prosecutor in two towns and is a municipal judge in six municipalities, including Haddonfield and Audubon.

He previously was a municipal judge in Cherry Hill and Camden.

One case he heard involved a state trooper who was accused of harassment in the alleged use of a racial slur while confronting a group of protesters in front of the Hall of Justice in Camden.

Bernardin received his law degree from the University of Dayton.

Bernardin and several other nominees who were reached declined comment.

Smith, 53, a Democrat, began his career as a lawyer in the office of general counsel for the School District of Philadelphia and then as solicitor for Camden in the 1990s. He now owns a law office in Collingswood that focuses on economic development, land use, and real estate.

He is the chairman of the New Jersey State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and was counsel to the New Jersey Black Issues Convention, a consortium of more than 40 African American civil rights, labor, business, senior citizen, youth, and other organizations.

A graduate of the Washington University at St. Louis School of Law, Smith also earned a degree in chemical engineering from Northwestern University.

Tarantino, 57, a Republican, is a municipal prosecutor in Moorestown and seven other towns, and is also a public defender in two municipalities in Monmouth County. He also is solicitor for housing authorities in Burlington City and Florence, and is counsel to the Beverly City Fire Commissioners. A graduate of Rutgers Law School-Camden, he served several years as a Judge Advocate General officer at Fort Dix.

Schweitzer, 43, a Democrat, has been counsel to the Camden County Board of Freeholders since 2011.

In that capacity she facilitated creation of the Camden County Police Department and engineered the sale of the county's Health Services Center. Previously, she was the solicitor of Cherry Hill, a municipal prosecutor in four towns, and a partner in a Haddon Heights law firm. She graduated from Widener University School of Law.

If approved by the Senate, the nominees will be sworn in for an initial term of seven years.

856-779-3224 @JanHefler

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