Our dear friend and former Shanley & Fisher partner Judge Frederick B. Lacey passed away on April 1, 2017, at the age of 96. He was preceded in death by his wife, Mary, but is survived by seven children, several grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and many friends. We will remember Fred as a driving force within our firm, and as one of New Jersey’s most prominent and driven attorneys, who spent his career fighting corruption and scandal in local government.
Fred was born in Newark, N.J., on September 8, 1920. After graduating from Rutgers University, he served his country in the Navy during World War II before attending Cornell University Law School, graduating in 1948. He began his legal career in private practice in New York City and worked as an assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey from 1953 to 1955, before joining Shanley in 1955.
During his time with Shanley, Fred expanded the firm’s small aviation defense practice into a significant one, and served as lead counsel for a major airline. He also established the medical malpractice defense practice that, within less than five years, propelled Shanley & Fisher into the position of the most prominent and successful defense firm in the northern part of the state. Fred represented one of the world’s largest construction companies in federal court in Newark. He also represented manufacturing companies in New Jersey in enforcing no-strike clauses they had negotiated with unions. This led the firm to substantial federal practice in that arena.
While at Shanley, Fred also served as pro bono counsel in the case of Rinaldi v. Yeager, a suit brought by a prisoner in Rahway State Prison, who brought his claim in federal court in Newark claiming violations of his civil rights while imprisoned. The heart of the suit was Lacey’s argument that the state statute under which Rinaldi was being deprived of his prison wages was unconstitutional. Lacey took the case to the U. S. Supreme Court where, by an 8-1 vote after a vigorous oral argument, the Supreme Court declared the statute to be unconstitutional.
President Richard Nixon appointed Fred as the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey in 1969. During his tenure there he led numerous corruption trials against high-profile figures in both the political arena and in organized crime, including Newark Mayor Hugh Joseph Addonizio, who was indicted for extortion. Fred’s efforts forged an expansion in federal criminal prosecutions but also created a legacy. Just a year later, the president nominated Fred for judgeship on the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. He was confirmed by the Senate and commissioned in early 1971, serving until his retirement in 1986. He continued his work condemning corruption, first as an independent administrator with LeBoeuf, Lamb, Leiby & MacRae and then as a federal monitor in an investigation of an accounting scandal at Bristol-Myers Squibb.
Although he frequently worked long hours, Fred denied that he was a workaholic. In an interview with the Star Ledger he said, “The guy who in my judgment exerts tremendous efforts to find the work that will consume his or her time — and never enjoys it — that's a workaholic. The work comes to me. But I don't consider it work as such. I find it fascinating.” Fred’s drive and his passion drove his career to be a successful one, and led him to be a memorable individual who offered so much to so many.