Judge Michael Patrick King (1935-2017)

Judge Michael Patrick King, one of the longest-serving members of the Appellate Division, died on November 25, as was revealed publicly today here.  A graduate of Fordham University and the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, he was in private practice with a Camden County law firm for twelve years until being appointed to the Camden County District Court by Governor Cahill in 1972. Judge King thereafter moved to the Superior Court bench and, in 1978, was promoted to the Appellate Division, where he served until his retirement in 2004.

That was not the end of Judge King’s judicial service, however.  He was one of the retired judges who participated in the Appellate Division’s Civil Appeals Settlement Program.  Thereafter, the Supreme Court designated Judge King to serve as Special Master in lengthy proceedings that culminated in State v. Chun, 194 N.J. 54 (2008) (involving the scientific reliability of Alcotest breathalyzer testing equipment).

At the time of his retirement, Judge King was the subject of a number of tribute articles in 35 Rutgers Law Journal.  Among the authors were some of his former law clerks, including Judith Wizmur, U.S.B.J., as well as Professor Robert Williams of Rutgers-Camden School of Law, who wrote an eloquent Introduction.  Those articles are well worth reading in order to learn more about Judge King than this post can convey.

As those tributes noted, and as a Westlaw search confirms, Judge King wrote over 400 published opinions while serving in the Appellate Division.  He was also temporarily assigned to the Supreme Court, where he wrote the Court’s opinion in E. Dickerson & Son, Inc. v. Ernst & Young, LLP, 179 N.J. 500 (2004), a leading case about accountants’ liability.

Given Judge King’s colossal output, it would be impossible to do more than scratch the surface of his oeuvre.  Somewhat arbitrarily, therefore, this post will note just a few of his opinions in areas of my own practice interests, or decisions that I recall having cited in my own work.

Judge King wrote both of the published opinions in Muise v. GPU, Inc., 332 N.J. Super. 140 (App. Div. 2000), and 371 N.J. Super. 13 (App. Div. 2004), a class action matter.  [Disclosure:  I argued the 2004 appeal for the plaintiffs, about which more will be said below].  His opinion in American Home Products Corp. v. Adriatic Ins. Co., 286 N.J. Super. 24 (App. Div. 1995), is one of the leading decisions about the doctrine of comity as regards multiple cases filed on the same subject in different venues.

Consumer fraud decisions authored by Judge King include New Mea Const. Corp. v. Harper, 203 N.J. Super. 486 (App. Div. 1985), and Skeer v. EMK Motors, Inc., 187 N.J. Super. 465 (App. Div. 1982), both of which continue to be cited today.  His municipal land use opinions, no doubt informed by his lengthy service as counsel to the Haddonfield Planning Board while in private practice, include Cherry Hill Tp. v. Oxford House, Inc., 263 N.J. Super. 25 (App. Div. 1993), which ruled that a zoning ordinance’s definition of “family” violated the New Jersey Constitution, and Wyzkowski v. Rizas, 254 N.J. Super. 28 (App. Div. 1992), which addressed conflict issues of Planning Board members.

Judge King also wrote the opinion in Ideal Dairy Farms, Inc. v. Farmland Dairy Farms, Inc., 282 N.J. Super. 140 (App. Div. 1995).  That was a complex antitrust and tortious interference case that went to trial and produced a large plaintiffs’ verdict, which the Appellate Division overturned.  It is one of the most important New Jersey antitrust decisions ever.

Rendine v. Pantzer, 276 N.J. Super. 398 (App. Div. 1994), and Szczepanski v. Newcomb Med. Center, 276 N.J. Super. 11 (App. Div. 1994), were both written by Judge King and were largely affirmed by the Supreme Court in rulings that are foundational decisions regarding attorneys’ fees in New Jersey state courts.  Those were just two of the many Judge King opinions that were later affirmed by the Supreme Court.

Some of the others are Smith v. Whitaker, 313 N.J. Super. 172 (App. Div. 1998) (a key ruling on punitive damages), Hopkins v. Fox & Lazo Realtors, 242 N.J. Super. 320 (App. Div. 1990) (explaining a real estate broker’s duty to those who visit listed properties and are injured there), In re Adoption of Child of Indian Heritage, 219 N.J. Super. 28 (App. Div. 1987) (discussing the Indian Child Welfare Act, 25 U.S.C. §1901 et seq.), and Ramirez v. Amsted Industries, Inc., 171 N.J. Super. 261 (App. Div. 1979) (addressing successor liability). Judge King authored Ramirez when he was relatively new to the Appellate Division, a time when many judges are not yet fully acclimated.  But he unerringly reached a result that stood up on further appeal.

Even this abbreviated listing of Judge King’s opinions shows his tremendous impact on numerous areas of the law.  But he also made his mark in the way he treated lawyers who appeared before him.  Despite his unquestioned brilliance, he was unfailingly courteous.

I had the pleasure of arguing the Muise case, mentioned above, before a panel that Judge King headed, late in his career.  The issues were challenging and the result was a lengthy decision that was a mixed bag for the parties.  Judge King had a full grasp of the issues and, in his characteristic even, polite tone, presided over a long oral argument very capably.

In that and so many other ways, “Pat” King (as those who knew him well called him) was a role model for all who wear judicial robes.  He will be missed, but never forgotten.

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