Judge Carol E. Higbee, who has been an Appellate Division judge for two years and, before that, a trial level judge in Atlantic County for 21 years, died on January 3 at age 66. After a judicial clerkship in Atlantic County (reportedly, she was the first woman law clerk in that courthouse) and a career in private practice as a trial lawyer handling medical malpractice, products, and personal injury cases, Judge Higbee was appointed to the Superior Court, Atlantic County, by Governor Florio in 1993. In 2003, she was designated as one of the three judges statewide who handle multicounty litigation of mass tort matters. Her work in that capacity included managing huge dockets of cases involving such products as Vioxx, Reglan, and Fosamax.
In 2005, Judge Higbee was named Presiding Judge of the Civil Division in Atlantic County. She continued to handle her mass tort caseload, with her most recent assignment being the thousands of pending cases involving the drug Accutane. In that litigation, the defense sought to recuse Judge Higbee for alleged bias. She denied that application in 2013, and motions for leave to appeal that decision (first to the Appellate Division and then to the Supreme Court) were denied.
A quick LEXIS search shows only a handful of published opinions by Judge Higbee in her brief stint in the Appellate Division. Her maiden opinion for that court, which dealt with the Lemon Law, was discussed here, and a later ruling involving sanctions was reported here.
But Judge Higbee’s primary impact on the judicial system, a significant one, was in her role as mass tort judge. She broke new ground in that area, and handled colossal caseloads in numerous mass torts, moving them toward resolution as quickly and decisively as possible. Other judges, and most counsel who appeared before her, spoke of Judge Higbee in only the most complimentary terms. She leaves an important legacy behind.