Former Chief Justice Deborah T. Poritz is of counsel in the firm’s White Collar Criminal Defense and Corporate Investigations, Antitrust and Government & Regulatory Affairs Practice Groups, and is located in Drinker Biddle’s Princeton office. The former chief stepped down from the high court in October 2006, and will concentrate her law practice at Drinker Biddle in government and corporate investigations, mediation and arbitration and appellate matters.
She received her bachelor's degree, magna cum laude, from Brooklyn College in 1958, having been elected to Phi Beta Kappa in 1957. Subsequently, the former chief justice studied English and American literature at Columbia University on a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship and then continued graduate studies at Brandeis University. She taught composition and literature at Ursinus College in Pennsylvania before leaving teaching to enter law school.
In 1977, former chief justice Poritz received her law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. On graduation, she joined the office of the New Jersey Attorney General as a deputy attorney general in the Division of Law, Environmental Protection Section. She later was named deputy attorney general in charge of appeals and chief of the Banking, Insurance and Public Securities Section. From 1986 to 1989, then she served as assistant attorney general and director of the Division of Law, supervising more than 300 attorneys for the state.
The former chief justice was appointed chief counsel to Governor Thomas H. Kean in 1989, serving as his principal adviser on legal and legislative matters. When Governor Kean left office in January 1990, the chief justice became a partner at the Princeton law firm of Jamieson, Moore, Peskin & Spicer where she represented clients in environmental, transportation and insurance regulatory matters. She remained at Jamieson until her appointment by Governor Christine T. Whitman in January 1994 as New Jersey's first female attorney general. As attorney general, she successfully defended Megan's Law, in both the state and federal courts, and chaired the task force that proposed and implemented the reorganization and reformation of the juvenile justice system in New Jersey. On July 10, 1996, she took the oath of office as chief justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey. She has led the judiciary during the period of statewide unification and integration that followed legislation transferring the responsibility for court funding from the counties to the state.
Among her professional affiliations, when she was the state attorney general, former Chief Justice Poritz served as a member of the Senior Environmental Forum, a national discussion group established to coordinate environmental enforcement and compliance that included senior federal, state and tribal representatives. She also has held several leadership positions with the National Association of Attorneys General, including chair of the Juvenile Justice Task Force, vice-chair of the Environment and Energy Committee, and vice-chair of the Environment Legislative Subcommittee. She has been a member of the Conference of Chief Justices since 1996.
In September 1996, the former chief justice received the Alumna Award of Merit from the University of Pennsylvania Law School and in May 1997, she received the Alumna of the Year Award from Brooklyn College. She was further honored by the University of Pennsylvania Law School when her portrait was unveiled and hung at the Law School in 2004. She has also received honorary degrees from Rutgers University School of Law, Seton Hall University School of Law, Drew University, Montclair University, Monmouth University and Thomas Edison State College. She has been presented with the National Association of Women Judges' Lifetime Achievement Award and the Civic Leadership Award from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.