Gibbons Plays Leading Role in Abolition of New Jersey's Death Penalty


December 13, 2007

This week, New Jersey became the first state in the country to repeal its death penalty statute since capital punishment was reinstated by the United States Supreme Court in 1976. Through its Trenton-based Government Affairs Department, Gibbons was at the forefront of this legislative initiative. Gibbons Attorney David Filippelli served as lead government affairs counsel to New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (NJADP), the statewide grassroots organization behind the movement to abolish New Jersey’s death penalty law. Gibbons’ Government Affairs Chair David Pascrell and Filippelli worked with NJADP to develop and implement the multi-year, and multi-faceted, legislative and media strategy behind the repeal statute.

On December 10, 2007, the State Senate voted 21-16 in favor of S-171, a bipartisan bill that replaced New Jersey’s twenty-five year old death penalty law with the alternative punishment of life in prison without parole. The General Assembly passed the measure by a vote of 44-36 on December 13, 2006. Governor Jon S. Corzine signed the bill into law four days later.

Gibbons’ work on this matter included successfully lobbying for enactment of Public Law 2005, c. 321, the first-in-the-nation legislative moratorium on capital punishment. That bipartisan law also included the creation of the New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission, whose final Report was integral to passage of the repeal statute.

Building upon that initial legislative success, Gibbons (1) served as a liaison between NJADP and legislative leaders and the Governor’s Office; (2) helped prepare witnesses to deliver key testimony to the Study Commission and to legislative committees; (3) helped the client secure positive media coverage, including key editorial support, for its position from most of the State’s daily newspapers; (4) drafted position papers which outlined the arguments for repeal of the death penalty; and (5) lobbied individual legislators to help secure the necessary votes in favor of replacing the death penalty with life in prison without parole.

“We are proud that our lawyer-lobbyists were able to play such a prominent role in helping shape the law and, indeed, the history of our State and our nation,” said Patrick C. Dunican, Jr., Gibbons’ Chairman and Managing Director.

“This legislative effort showed what can be accomplished through the strength and passion of an amazing grassroots movement. As a Firm that is known for its commitment to advancing social justice, Gibbons embraced the opportunity to help that movement achieve this positive outcome,” said Filippelli.

“This project was really about presenting the evidence of the death penalty’s many failures. It is not surprising that, when faced with the facts, the New Jersey State Legislature came to the common sense conclusion that the time has come to move on.” said Pascrell, Chair of the Gibbons Government Affairs Department.

“New Jersey was ready for this change. Twenty-five years of experience with capital punishment has shown that it has no practical usefulness as public policy, and contributes nothing to the public welfare,” said Celeste Fitzgerald, Director of NJADP.

About New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (NJADP)
NJADP is a grassroots organization whose members include family members of murder victims, law enforcement professionals, members of the clergy and more than twelve thousand individual members from throughout New Jersey.