Now in his 20th year, U.S. District Court Judge Joel Pisano ’71 presides over high-stakes cases in Trenton, N.J., involving virtually every aspect of the law. As he oversees a weighty caseload, Pisano is energized by the variety of his docket and the enthusiasm of young minds that come to his office to learn and work.
President Bill Clinton nominated Pisano as a federal judge in September 1999. The nomination reflected the experience and wisdom Pisano had acquired through his years in the public defender’s office, in private practice, and as a U.S. magistrate judge. In February 2000, Pisano was confirmed and received his commission.
Federal judges are vested with power over legal disputes covering a broad range of subjects, both civil and criminal. Cases before Pisano involve such diverse areas of the law as civil rights, patents, fraud, public corruption, personal injury, copyright, employment discrimination, historic preservation, social security, and securities.
“It’s an overwhelming caseload that never stops. The variety, however, is what makes it so challenging and so interesting,” Pisano says. “The lawyers who argue before us are the best in the country—all specialists in the narrow issue that is being presented in the particular case.”
“As a federal judge, you are not a specialist. But, you have to be as prepared as the lawyers are in their specific area of the law.”
The cases in Pisano’s large, commercially active district are of enormous consequence to the stakeholders. Many, for example, are patent cases, which may involve products with sales that reach billions of dollars annually. “You’ve got to be able to make a decision,” he says. “Now that isn’t to say that you don’t think long and hard about it, because you do. But once you come to grips with it, you make the decision and move on to the next case.”
A government and law graduate, Pisano received his J.D. from Seton Hall University. He is passionate about mentoring those entering the legal field and has opened his office doors to both law students, who work with him as summer interns, and undergraduate students, most often from Lafayette’s externship program. Ruth Dennehy ’12, Julian Delgado ’14, and Andrew Anastor ’13 participated in January 2012.
“It’s meaningful for students to have an opportunity, even if it’s only for a few days, to speak to people in the profession—not only myself, from my point of view, which is pretty far removed from where they are at this time in their lives, but also my law clerks, who are recently out of law school.”
Attorneys fortunate enough to clerk in Pisano’s office benefit from his personal mentorship as well as that of his permanent law clerk, Jessica Biamonte ’87.
“The year I spend with law clerks is a tremendous opportunity, both for them and for me,” he says. “These are people in their 20s. They are very bright, and they’re in sync with the modern world, not only in terms of law and politics but also socialization. They keep you current on what’s going on in the world. And their research and writing abilities are terrific.”
Looking back over his career, Pisano says that he has benefited from his connection to Lafayette.
“I spent a lot of time with Herm Kissiah, dean of student emeritus, resolving issues affecting the student body,” he says. “I think I first realized that I might have an aptitude for the bar as a result of those experiences negotiating fair outcomes.”
While a law student, Pisano worked summers in the law office of Larry Schwartz ’62. After graduation, Schwartz connected him with Ed Kirby ’58, who ran the public defender’s office in Essex County, N.J. Pisano worked there for four years.
In 1978, Pisano joined Schwartz and later became his partner. After 13 years in private practice, Pisano applied for and was selected as U.S. magistrate judge for the District of New Jersey, a position he held for nine years before becoming a federal district judge.