Hon. Thomas E. O’Brien
Practice Areas: Mediation, Arbitration, Complex Case Management
Education: Seton Hall University – School of Law, Newark, New Jersey – J.D. 1972 | Seton Hall University – Newark, New Jersey – B.A. 1967 (Honors; Deans’ List)
Admitted: 1983, New Jersey and U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey; 1984, U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit; 1997, Connecticut
Memberships: American Bar Association, New Jersey State Bar Association, Monmouth County Bar Association (Trustee, Secretary, Treasurer, Vice-President and President-Elect), Ocean County Bar Association, Ocean-Monmouth Legal Services, 1976-1986 – (Trustee, Secretary, Treasurer)
Military Service: U.S. Army – 1969 –1970 – Pentagon, Headquarters Company U.S. Army
Biography: The Honorable Thomas E. O’Brien, formerly a judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Ocean County, rejoined Bathgate, Wegener & Wolf, P.C., on February 1, 2011.
During his more than 18 years on the bench, Judge O’Brien served as Presiding Judge of the Special Civil Part, Chancery Division-Probate Part and Civil Division. He presided over hundreds of jury and non-jury trials and thousands of settlement and case management conferences. He also served in the Family Division for more than four years. As the Presiding Judge of the Civil Division, Judge O’Brien managed, settled and tried all civil case types, including but not limited to: automobile, personal injury, medical malpractice, insurance, construction, consumer fraud, employment/labor, business association dissolutions, environmental, probate, prerogative writs, contract/commercial transactions and real estate/tenancy.
Law Practice: Prior to serving in the judiciary, Judge O’Brien was in private practice. In 1972, he commenced his legal career as law secretary to the Honorable Walter H. Conklin, J.S.C., Monmouth County, Civil Division. He then became associated with Pearce & Maguire, Esqs. of Manasquan, New Jersey, where he became a partner. In 1986 he joined Bathgate, Wegener & Wolf, P.C., as a partner and remained there until 1992.
His practice involved all phases of law including civil litigation, real estate and commerical transactions, family, criminal, zoning and planning, including the representation of the Spring Lake Board of Adjustment for 19 years.
Judicial Service: In 1995, Judge O’Brien received an award from the Family Law Committee and the Ocean County Bar Association for his successful management of the marital dissolution – Early Settlement Program.
He established an effective Insurance Settlement Day Calendar in cooperation with the insurance carriers and county bar association.
Judge O’Brien also founded and conducted a Settlement Program in the Special Civil Part to clear severly backlogged cases, many of which involved Pro Se litigants.
While assigned to the Probate Part of the Chancery Division, he managed a program wherein volunteer attorneys effectively mediated and settled difficult estate and guardianship litigations.
As the Presiding Judge of the Special Civil Part, he effectively mediated Landlord/Tenant, Consumer Affairs and Fish and Game cases.
Judge O’Brien served on the Statewide Conference of Special Civil Part Presiding Judges in 1992/1993. He also was a member of the Statewide Conference of Civil Presiding Judges from 2007 to 2011.
Judge O’Brien acted as the liason judge to the Ocean County Bar Association – Arbitration Committee, in connection with the selection and removal of court approved arbitrators pusuant to the Uniform Arbitration Act, from 1998 to 2011.
As Presiding Civil Judge, he also monitored mediators, their compensation and other issues arising under the Uniform Mediation Act.
Throughout his entire judicial career, Judge O’Brien managed an extensive mediation program that involved over a hundred lay and/or “attorney” volunteers who worked on a daily basis to help litigants resolve their landlord/tenant, small claims and special civil part disputes. At the same time, he also trained and managed the law clerk mediators, who were required to mediate landlord/tenant and small claims cases.
Judge O’Brien as Presiding Judge conducted regular meetings with the Ocean County Civil Practice Committee to address issues of concern to civl litigators.
In addition to his of counsel duties to the firm, Judge O’Brien focuses his practice on mediation, arbitration, case management and complex transactional matters.
Alternative Dispute Resolution Training: Judge O’Brien completed the court sponsored civil and foreclosure mediation training pursuant to the Uniform Mediation Act. He also attended The National Judicial College. During his tenure on the bench, Judge O’Brien mediated cases referred by other judges and participated as a lecturer at the AOC Arbitrator Re-Training Session and other dispute resolution programs.
Definition of Services: Judge O’Brien provides dispute resolution assistance to attorneys and individual parties who are involved in litigation that has been docketed in Court – or in some instances where litigation has been threatened and the parties wish to proceed with dispute resolution prior to the formal filing of any documents. These dispute resolution services take three forms: mediation, arbitration and complex case management.
Mediation: In every dispute the parties will at some time discuss the potential for settlement with their attorney. Judge O’Brien will act as a third party facilitator in the conduct of settlement negotiations between the parties. The judge/mediator does not represent any of the parties. The judge/mediator meets with the parties and their attorneys, discusses the issues and the options for settlement. The judge/mediator then will meet with the parties individually. All discussions, by statute, are confidential and privileged.
Arbitration: In many cases the parties cannot settle. They may have previously agreed to submit any disagreement to arbitration. This circumstance usually arises where the parties had previously entered into a contract which required that any disagreement would be resolved by arbitration. In the alternative, during a dispute the parties may agree that they do not wish to submit their disagreement to the courts. This decision may be based on a cost analysis, a concern for time delay, a desire for confidentiality or a combination of these. Judge O’Brien acts as the final decision maker. The judge reviews the documents, listens to testimony, invites argument and renders a determination.
Complex Case Management: In some complex cases, disputes arise with regard to pre-trial preparation. In such circumstances counsel often recognize the prohibitive cost and time delay associated with bringing formal motions before the court. The parties will often turn to a third party to resolve pre-trial discovery and scheduling issues. Judge O’Brien will provide those services upon request.