Former New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Deborah Poritz, of counsel to our Princeton office, and former Drinker Biddle partner Ken C. Frazier, now Chairman and CEO of Merck, were honored with Legal Services of New Jersey (LSNJ)’s highest recognition: induction into the Equal Justice Circle of Honor. The awards were presented at a reception on June 7 at the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton Township.
Former Chief Justice Poritz was the first woman to serve as New Jersey’s attorney general, and later the first woman to serve as Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court. She was instrumental in many of the major decisions affecting the Garden State’s legal and social fabric, including improving the juvenile justice system, unification of the courts, defense of Megan’s Law, expansion of drug courts, and leading the advancement of more female judges into top judiciary management positions that largely had been the domain of male judges. Her efforts as Chief Justice to support civil legal assistance for those who cannot afford attorneys have continued in her role as chair of the board of LSNJ. She joined Drinker Biddle in 2006.
Ken Frazier, one of the recognized giants in today’s pharmaceutical world, joined Merck in 1992 after 14 years at Drinker Biddle. He was elevated to chairman of the board and CEO in 2011, becoming the first African-American to lead a major pharmaceutical company. At Merck, Ken has spearheaded major ongoing efforts to develop new drugs to deal with Alzheimer’s and other scourges, and also provide drugs to needy people in Third World nations. His goal has always been to marry business interests with social responsibility. He also led Merck’s exemplary pro bono public legal assistance efforts, setting a high bar and national model for corporations that would seek to advance equal justice for all and assist the disadvantaged.
The LSNJ award also recognized Ken’s personal efforts in pro bono death penalty defense work during his tenure at Drinker Biddle, where he worked with Seamus Duffy and former partner Mike Holston to help free an innocent man who had spent two decades on death row in an Alabama prison. Mike left the firm in 2005 and is now General Counsel at Merck.
Also honored at the ceremony for contributions to LSNJ and efforts to expand free civil legal assistance for those in poverty was Ellen Ferrise, retiring executive director of the Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts Fund and the sister of New York partner Tom Dawson.