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Hon. Freda L. Wolfson ’79, Commencement Speaker

Freda Wolfson wanted to be part of the United States legal system for as long as she can remember. A first-generation American, daughter of Holocaust survivors, she inherited a respect for the law and our system of justice born of her family’s harrowing years in war-torn Europe. 

“I give my parents a lot of credit because when they came here, they didn’t speak the language or understand the culture,” she says. “They worked like the devil. My father was a butcher, and my mother sewed military coats in a clothing factory. Still, my sisters and I all went to college.”

Judge Wolfson was an Eagleton Institute of Politics Undergraduate Fellow and a member of Phi Beta Kappa at Rutgers University, Douglass College, in New Brunswick. She graduated in 1976 magna cum laude.

Judge Freda Wolfson 

Judge Freda L. Wolfson 

When she started law school later that year, she joined the class of 1979. That class enjoyed a distinction from previous classes, as well as from all other law schools, because approximately one half of the students were women. Her classmates included Jaynee LaVecchia, now a Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, and Rosemary Gambardella, former Chief of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of New Jersey.

Judge Wolfson remains extremely grateful for the opportunities she received through Rutgers School of Law–Newark, including as a Philip J. Levin Scholar. “Some people don’t enjoy law school, but I thought it was terrific,” she says. “I got a tremendous education from excellent professors, and I had the benefit of being a research assistant, teaching assistant, and an editor of the Law Review. We were all commuters then, but it’s amazing how close we became. Between classes, we would sit in the lounge and discuss issues. It was an interesting time for race relations – the Bakke decision had just come out – and women were coming into law school in full force. It was a great environment with some wonderfully smart people.”

After graduating cum laude, Judge Wolfson began her legal career as a litigator, handling commercial and employment litigation and casino licensing applications at Lowenstein Sandler for two years and Clapp & Eisenberg for five years.

In 1986 she was appointed as a Magistrate Judge for the U.S. District Court in New Jersey. While not officially verified, it seems likely that at the time of her appointment she was the youngest sitting U.S. magistrate judge in the country. “I was sworn in two days after my 32nd birthday,” she recalls. In 2002 she was confirmed as a U.S. District Court judge for the District of New Jersey.

The author of numerous opinions and articles on a vast array of subjects, Judge Wolfson shares her expertise with several professional committees. She currently serves as chair of the U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey Committee on Personnel and Equal Employment Opportunity as well as chair of the Committee on Jury Utilization and Management. She frequently participates in professional seminars as a speaker or panelist for such organizations as the Association of the Federal Bar of the State of New Jersey, the American Trial Lawyers Association-New Jersey Educational Foundation, the New Jersey Institute of Continuing Legal Education, and various county bar associations.

Judge Wolfson’s professional achievements are many. She has been honored as an American Bar Foundation Fellow and has received a New Jersey State Bar Association Young Lawyer Division’s Professional Achievement Award. In 2002 she accepted the Outstanding Alumnus Award from the law school’s Alumni Association. Recently, she received the 2008 Women’s Initiative & Leaders in Law Platinum Award from the New Jersey Women Lawyers Association.

Judge Wolfson is equally proud of her ability to balance a demanding legal career with a strong family life. When she became a magistrate judge, she had an 18-month-old son and she had a second son four years later. “I was the first sitting federal judge in the state to have a child, and I didn’t miss a beat,” she says. “I’m proud as a woman and as a lawyer that the two roles worked together.”

The judge credits her husband, Douglas K. Wolfson ’77, as essential to her success. “We got married after his first year of law school and after my junior year at Douglass College. We finished school together and have gone through our careers together. You can’t do this alone, and he’s been my biggest supporter.” Douglas Wolfson, a partner of Greenbaum, Rowe, Smith & Davis LLP, is a former New Jersey Superior Court judge and a former New Jersey assistant attorney general and director of the Division of Law in the Department of Law and Public Safety. He is also an Adjunct Professor of land use controls at the law school.

In her commencement address, Judge Wolfson urged the graduates, faced with an uncertain economy, to be alert to the many opportunities afforded by their J.D. “Regardless of who or what you thought you might be, your goals and visions may benefit from some forced re-examination. And of all places to be reminded of that fact is this law school which is so rich in its diversity of students, faculty and ideas that it should ever serve as a beacon that there is no one road to fulfillment or success.”