On Sept. 1, Honorary Trustee Herbert J. Stern ’58, LL.D. ’74, P’03 will release his book “Diary of a DA: The True Story of the Prosecutor Who Took on the Mob, Fought Corruption, and Won.” The book offers a detailed – and page-turning – account of the series of prosecutions, known as the “Jersey City 8,” that Stern led in the late 1960s and early 1970s that resulted in the criminal convictions of mayors, congressmen and politicians across New Jersey.
Using transcripts of FBI wiretaps to paint a complete picture of the corruption, the trials and the justice system, Stern’s book is a real-life account of his work as a U.S. attorney in the criminal courts of New York City and as the lead trial attorney for the Justice Department.
In anticipation of the book’s release, Stern recently sat down with Raymond Brown, host of PBS program “Due Process,” to discuss his publication, the now legendary trials, and his status as one of the most revered U.S. district judges in history. The full interview can be found online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DglqLmH6w2g.
Stern’s book was also reviewed on NJ.com by Pulitzer Prize-winning editor Richard Aregood, a professor at the University of North Dakota and former retired editorial page editor of the Philadelphia Daily News and the Newark Star-Ledger . In his review, Aregood praises Stern’s work as an attorney and his craft as a writer.
“This book is more than a page-turner of a true crime story, although it is that,” reads the review. “It is a finely honed, honest and thorough examination of how the justice system really works in the minor criminal courts of New York City, in a major case such as the assassination of Malcolm X and in major prosecutions with cross-currents reaching to the Statehouse, Congress and the White House. Stern details the conflicts within the Justice Department, riven both by retail politics and the preference of higher-ups to protect the institution over getting after the thieves and thugs.”
Stern graduated from Hobart in 1958 with a B.A. in history, and went on to complete his J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School in 1961. He was awarded the Hobart Medal of Excellence in 1990, and was lead donor for Stern Hall, which provides the Colleges with 27,000 square feet of integral academic space.
The full article from NJ.com follows.
New Jersey News
Book Review: ‘Diary of a DA’
Richard Aregood • Guest Blogger • August 26, 2012
In New Jersey, we are aficionados of corruption. Scandals that in other places would bring down governments, we sneer at for being Little League stuff. That’s because we know how bad it can get.
Herb Stern knows better than anybody. As U.S. attorney, he led a series of prosecutions in the late 1960s and early 1970s that ended in criminal convictions for the mayors of Jersey City, Newark and Atlantic City, along with a congressman and what seemed at the time to be half the politicians in the state, exposing some as being wholly owned subsidiaries of the mob. All of this was done despite the fierce opposition of powerful state officials, as well as the Nixon Justice Department’s preference for silly political prosecutions such as that of the “Camden 28.”
It is hard to underplay the seriousness and depth of the corruption. In his book “Diary of a DA: The True Story of the Prosecutor Who Took on the Mob, Fought Corruption and Won,” to be published this week, Stern uses transcripts from FBI wiretaps that were printed in Life magazine to document its depth. Richie “The Boot” Boiardo kept an incinerator at his home in Livingston to dispose of inconvenient or talkative colleagues. The wiretaps that discussed the Boot’s disposal system also implicated boss John J. Kenny of Hudson County, the mob’s hand-picked Newark police director and its equally crooked superintendent of the State Police.
In one especially chilling episode, Sam “The Plumber” DeCavalcante is seen to physically push U.S. Attorney Fred Lacey against the Mayfair Farms bar, issuing threats to his family that could have been in “The Godfather.” This was no petty bribery problem, no sleazy town councilman accepting a free driveway paving. This was a state controlled by criminals in public office who were controlled themselves by real criminals.
This book is more than a page-turner of a true crime story, although it is that. It is a finely honed, honest and thorough examination of how the justice system really works in the minor criminal courts of New York City, in a major case such as the assassination of Malcolm X and in major prosecutions with cross-currents reaching to the Statehouse, Congress and the White House. Stern details the conflicts within the Justice Department, riven both by retail politics and the preference of higher-ups to protect the institution over getting after the thieves and thugs.
It isn’t pretty, and Stern shows the whole picture, complete with a substantial number of good guys, including several federal judges and the late Sen. Clifford P. Case, who saw justice and honesty as an ultimate goal. Unlike some one-hour “Law and Order” episode, prosecution is a long, frustrating, exhausting ordeal, where nothing is certain, not the witnesses and their testimony nor the quality of the judiciary. The details of the criminality in Hudson County alone are worth the price of the book.
Prosecution also involves making conscious choices – discretion – on the practicality and even the fairness of prosecuting. It involves reading the public mood, as well as the mood inside a courtroom. Stern shows how the wheels turn to produce at least an approximation of justice.
Stern takes us from his beginnings in law as a 25-year-old man still in Army uniform being sworn into the New York bar to his swearing-in as a U.S. district judge. He stops the story there, leaving us to imagine the distinguished career as judge and lawyer that followed.
This is not a simple “story of my life,” though. Any reader can get an insight on the messy details of prosecution and politics, along with the occasional uplifting feeling that things sometimes can actually work the way they should. This is no prosecutor with an eye on his conviction rate and his political future; this is a man who wants to do justice and did.
All during those prosecutions, by the way, there was one media outlet that consistently supported Stern in his battles as U.S. attorney against the powerful, connected and corrupt. Gil Spencer of the Trentonian had a visceral distaste for people who used the public trust like a cash dispenser. I acknowledge here that Spencer was my mentor and friend, and the best man I ever met, so I have a strong interest in his part in the Stern dramas.
But I think it’s a good reading of Herb Stern’s character that he noticed who was beside him and had his back. He had never met Spencer through all the trials and crises, but had taken heart at the crisp, powerful, sometimes even funny editorials that backed the cleanup of Jersey politics. Toward the end, he did call Spencer and said that the Trentonian’s crusade deserved a Pulitzer Prize. Spencer dismissed the idea by saying modestly that little tabloids in New Jersey don’t tend to win.
Stern had a lawyer’s curiosity and called the Pulitzer board, learning that nominations can come from anyone. So he nominated Spencer. Spencer won.
Richard Aregood, retired editorial page editor of The Star-Ledger, is a professor at the University of North Dakota. Share your thoughts at njvoices.com.