Next generation at N.J. victims’ rights law center to continue championing cause
Posted on February 23, 2012 by Richard Pompelio
Originally posted at http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2009/12/next_generation_at_nj_pro-bono.html
WHIPPANY — Seventeen years ago, attorney Richard Pompelio established the New Jersey Crime Victims’ Law Center, the first pro-bono law center of its kind in the nation, after his teenage son, Anthony, was murdered.
So far, the center has represented 10,000 victims and has been a model for 11 similar operations in the nation.
He has helped the parents of pizzeria owner Giorgio Gallara, 25, negotiate the legal system after their son and his deliveryman were shot to death by two teenage “thrill killers” who wanted to know what it would feel like to commit murder. He also helped Jennifer Park’s parents after their 15-year-old daughter was killed and dismembered by two teenage boys next door.
As he has grown older, Pompelio, now 62, feared there would be no one to succeed him at the law center, to continue championing the rights of New Jersey’s crime victims.
“I used to say to myself, ‘Someday I’m not going to be able to do it, and someday this is all going to end,” Pompelio said of working at the center that began in Sparta and is now in Whippany.
His worries appear to be over. His eldest surviving son, 28-year-old Nicholas, has joined his dad’s new law firm of Pompelio, Foreman & Gray law in Whippany. Nicholas and two partners, Paul Foreman and David Gray, work not only as private attorneys but also as pro-bono attorneys assisting the Crime Victims’ Law Center.
“This is a good opportunity that we’ve got here,” Nicholas said. “We want to represent crime victims forever, in perpetuity. We need to build a system where we can do that.”
Over the years, the nonprofit NJCVLC has sustained itself with assistance from pro-bono attorneys and funding from the nonprofit National Crime Victims’ Law Institute of Lewis & Clark School in Portland, Ore., which has provided $250,000 each year to cover the center’s costs. That funding, however, is expected to evaporate in coming years.
Last year, Pompelio and Foreman and Gray created the new law firm as a way to have a readily available pool of pro-bono help. .
“They give me as much pro-bono work as I want them to,” Richard said of his son, Forman and Gray. “We’ve kind of got the right formula right now, I’ve got these wonderful young men in my office who want to do this. They see the law as an opportunity for public service.”
It’s an ethic that Nicholas grew up with.
After his older brother Anthony Pompelio was stabbed to death in 1989 at a party, Nicholas watched as his father and mother Ann learned firsthand how the criminal-justice system often treated victims as secondary concerns. His father and mother, who would later become an attorney, vowed to change that, and in 1992 established the center to provide help, free of charge, to crime victims.
Meg Garvin, executive director of the National Crime Victims’ Law Institute, said, “Rich has a really unique model. He does pro-bono work and partners with top-notch attorneys. Rich is the real deal. He’s great for victims in New Jersey, and he’s great for victims throughout the country.”
David Parks, whose daughter, Jennifer, was murdered by two teenage brothers in 2005, recalled how Pompelio was in his family’s corner during their four-year criminal-justice odyssey.
The Parks’s were having trouble being kept informed of the criminal case from a prior prosecutor’s administration. They were referred to Pompelio by a friend of the Gallaras, and he went to work for them — from lending a shoulder to cry on or standing up for them in court. He represented them in plea discussions and successfully helped fight a change of venue. When the trials arrived, he helped them deal with sensitive issues, such as grisly crime-scene photos. And he spoke for them at sentencings.
“He was more than just on our team. He was trying to explain what we were facing from the beginning. We were too naïve to know what we were facing,” Parks said. “He tried to explain the emotional roller coaster we would go through.”
Pompelio has about 250 open case files per year. He also has filed ‘friend-of-the-court’ briefs in cases that potentially affect victims’ rights, and also helped draft legislation to enact laws, including the 1991 Victim Rights Amendment.
The younger Pompelio didn’t always plan on a law career — his bachelor’s degree was in finance from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. But law and victims’ rights were always foremost in the Pompelio home.
While at New England Law School in Boston, Nicholas often did legal research for his father. Nicholas also helped his dad put out a magazine, “Victim Voice,” for the center a few years ago.
Earlier this year, Nicholas helped assemble his father’s first book, “Crime Victims’ Rights; A Guide for Practitioners and Service Providers,” by annotating its more-than-1,000 footnotes and citations. That 530-page tome, published in September by Equal Justice Publishing, is a nuts-and-bolts reference book that Richard hopes will one day be on the shelves in every courthouse and prosecutors’ and attorneys’ office in the state.
After law school, Nicholas served a clerkship in Superior Court in Morristown that ended in September. He considered various options for a legal career, but took a job closest to his heart — working for, and alongside, his father.
Richard said he relishes the idea of working with Nicholas.
“I’m a fortunate guy, I’ll be the first to admit it.”