Herbert Jay Stern (born November 8, 1936) is a New Jersey criminal defense lawyer. Earlier in his career, Stern served as a federal judge of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey and the United States Court for Berlin. He presided over a hijacking trial that was the only case ever tried in an American court in the occupied American Sector of West Berlin. He wrote a book about that case, Judgment in Berlin, which became a movie in which his role was played by Martin Sheen. He was part of the team that successfully handled several major corruption and organized crime trials in New Jersey. These are memorialized in his recent book, Diary of a DA: The True Story of the Prosecutor Who Took On the Mob, Fought Corruption, and Won. (2012)
Early life and education
Born in New York City, Stern attended Hobart College. After graduating in 1958 with a B.A., he went on to earn a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School in 1961. He then served one year in the United States Army Reserve. He was admitted to the New York bar in 1961 and the New Jersey bar in 1971.
District Attorney and United States Attorney
Stern served from 1962 to 1965 as an Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan, during which he participated in the investigation of the assassination of Malcolm X. He then took a position as a trial attorney in the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section of the United States Department of Justice. In 1969, Stern became Chief Assistant United States Attorney for New Jersey. From 1971 to 1973, he served as the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey. He was part of the team that handled several major corruption and organized crime trials in New Jersey. The U.S. Attorney's Office in New Jersey was originally headed by Frederick Lacey. Trials included the successful prosecution of Newark Mayor Hugh Joseph Addonizio.
In December 1973, President Richard M. Nixon appointed Stern to a District Judgeship in New Jersey. Stern succeeded Judge Leonard Garth, who had been elevated to an appellate position on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. During a 13-year tenure on the bench, Stern presided over a variety of civil and criminal cases. However, his judicial service is best remembered for the unique case of United States v. Tiede, an aircraft hijacking prosecution that was the sole case ever tried in the United States Court for Berlin, over which he was specially designated to preside by selection of the U.S. Department of State. In a published opinion in the case issued in 1978, Stern held that even though the case involved prosecution of German citizens in an unusual forum outside the United States, the defendants were still parties to an American criminal proceeding and entitled to the United States Constitution's guarantee of trial by jury. Stern later authored Judgment in Berlin, a book about his experiences in the Tiede case which was made into a film.
In 1987 Stern resigned from the federal bench and entered private practice as an attorney. He is currently a member of his own law firm located in Roseland, New Jersey. In addition to Judgment in Berlin, Stern is the author of several books for lawyers on the subject of trial advocacy.
Controversy over federal monitorship
In 2006, Stern was appointed by Chris Christie, who was then serving as the United States Attorney for New Jersey, to the $500-per-hour post of federal monitor, following Christie's approval of a deferred prosecution agreement with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, which had admitted committing Medicare fraud. Stern's law firm, Stern and Kilcullen, received a reported $8 million in legal fees from the contract. Stern, some of his partners, and their wives subsequently each made the maximum contribution of $3,400 to Christie's 2009 gubernatorial campaign, resulting in a total contribution of $23,800 (and $47,600 in public matching funds). State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D) called for Christie to return the money in order to avoid giving New Jersey taxpayers the impression of a pay-to-play relationship.
- Herbert J. Stern, Prosecution of Local Political Corruption Under the Hobbs Act: The Unnecessary Distinction Between Bribery and Extortion, 3 Seton Hall L. Rev. 1 (1971).
- Stern, Herbert Jay, Judgment in Berlin, New York: Universe Books, 1984.