United States: An Interview With The Honorable John Michael Vazquez, United States District Judge For The District Of New Jersey

The Honorable John Michael Vazquez received his commission to serve as a United States district judge for the District of New Jersey on Jan. 29, 2016. Judge Vazquez ascended to the federal bench after spending his entire law career in New Jersey, serving as an assistant United States attorney in the district, as the first assistant in the Office of the Attorney General, and as a partner in private practice. As Judge Vazquez approaches the close of his first year on the bench, he graciously sat down to share his personal experience and sound advice for the attorneys appearing in his courtroom.

Q: Where did you grow up?

I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, but moved to New Jersey after a few months. The majority of my childhood was spent in Wharton, a town in Morris County. I am the oldest of three brothers.

Q: What inspired you to become a lawyer?

I cannot point to one moment that inspired me to practice law. Instead, my own personal interests, along with several events, influenced my decision to become an attorney. For example, while attending Rutgers College I had several professors who had a significant impact on my future career decision. In short, they inspired critical thinking and analysis on difficult topics.

Q: Did you enjoy law school?

I was fortunate to attend Seton Hall University School of Law and have many fond memories of my time there. The administration, professors, and my classmates were wonderful. I gained tremendous legal knowledge and was well prepared for the bar exam. Seton Hall is a critical player in the New Jersey legal community.

That being said, I also found law school to be a significant challenge. In addition to the course work and the anxiety that is innate to law school, I was the first in my family to attempt a career in the legal profession. I found that law students who had family in practice also had a better perspective from the outset.

Q: Do you have a person or mentor whom you credit with helping you with your career?

I have been incredibly fortunate to have several mentors and colleagues who have played significant roles in my career. In law school, professors Angela Carmella, John Wefing, John Cornwell, and Lori Nessel stood out. I then clerked for the Honorable Herman D. Michels, P.J.A.D., who was an ideal role model for any jurist. Thereafter, I worked with Stuart Rabner (now chief justice) and Anne Milgram (then attorney general), both of whom were incredibly gifted attorneys but even better people. Finally, my former partner, Michael Critchley, instilled in me the importance of meticulous preparation and the necessity of sound judgment.

Q: What do you count among your most notable life events or proudest professional achievements?

My most notable life events center on my family. My wife and I are parents to two wonderful teenage daughters. In addition, I have a large number of nieces and nephews. Spending time with my family, whether it be during a formal event or a casual get together, is my favorite activity.

From a professional standpoint, the day that I was sworn in as a judge was second to none. As a practicing attorney, there are several trials that come to mind. Overall, I most appreciate earning the professional respect of those whom I admire.

Q: What advice would you give to lawyers appearing before you for the first time?

Preparation is a must, but it is only the starting point. Preparation must always be guided by good judgment and sound advocacy. Also, attorneys develop reputations, for better or worse. All counsel should aspire to have the reputation of your word being your bond and your representations being unassailable.

When trying a case, counsel should always be considerate of the jury. This sounds obvious, but some counsel approach trials with a sense that the jury is fortunate to be in the presence of the lawyer. The jury, however, has the last word. For example, if counsel anticipates a detailed evidentiary issue, it should be raised through an in limine motion. If the issue must be dealt with during trial, then counsel should notify the court so that the matter can be addressed either before or after the trial day so that the jury is not kept needlessly waiting.

Q: What would you caution a lawyer practicing before you not to do?

I would caution lawyers not to merely parrot their written submissions. Doing so makes oral argument superf luous. I work hard to prepare for argument, and I generally have specific questions that I want the attorneys to address. At the same time, I usually give all counsel time at the end of argument to raise any additional issues that they wish.

Q: How would you describe your ideal brief?

Concise, interesting, and persuasive; do not cite 10 cases when one will do. I have found that the best attorneys do not waste their time on issues that are extraneous or on which the facts/law are not in their favor. Conversely, other counsel tend to argue every point regardless of the merits. This unfortunately subtracts from any viable argument that they may have.

Q: Under what circumstances would you accept an informal letter brief?

The circumstances depend on the issue being addressed. For example, if the attorneys are in the midst of trial and desire to address an evidentiary point, a short and informal letter is not only permitted but preferable. Similarly, if I request supplemental briefing following oral argument, an informal letter brief is welcome. Also, as a former practicing attorney, I understand the demands of an active practice. As a result, if an unforeseen event occurs (either personally or professionally), I will give counsel leeway.

Q: Are you amenable to telephone conferences in lieu of formal in-court hearings?

I am, depending on the circumstances. If the proceeding is an argument on a substantive motion, then I will insist that counsel appear in person. However, if counsel want to review a minor point or scheduling issue, I am happy to do so by phone.

Q: How do you prefer to receive communications to the court?

Given the size of our dockets in the district, I prefer written communications filed through ECF/Pacer. This preference reflects the reality of managing a large docket. It also ensures a complete and accurate record.

Q: What factors do you consider when weighing whether to grant permission to file a sur-reply?

As a general rule, sur-replies are disfavored. In deciding whether to grant permission, I consider whether the original movant unexpectedly raised a new issue in her reply brief. In other words, I review whether the opposing attorney had a fair opportunity to address the issue and whether she could have reasonably anticipated the issue.

Q: What do you think are the most important attributes of a successful federal practitioner?

The most important attribute is sound judgment, because it is from such judgment that all other case decisions flow. In addition, attorneys must have a firm command of the law and facts. I find that the best advocates are able to synthesize issues, while marrying the law and the facts, and anticipate how their adversaries will respond. Moreover, top attorneys are equally comfortable arguing a complex area of law to the court as they are communicating with a jury. As far as demeanor, civility and a good sense of humor can be valuable tools for any federal practitioner.

Q: What common mistake(s) do you see practitioners make and what remedies would you suggest?

One error is the failure to concede obvious points. This error can infect oral argument and trial. At oral argument, counsel have limited time and need to focus on legitimate points of contention. At trial, fighting over a records custodian when not necessary is counterproductive.

Slight repetition, either before a court or jury, is understandable. Needless repetition, however, is counterproductive. In certain cases, the most knowledgeable attorney is not the one arguing. Certain lead counsel refuse to defer to other attorneys when doing so would bring clarity and avoid delay. The best lead counsel, in my view, are those who are willing to let the appropriate attorney address an issue. For example, if the court has a specific question about a factual detail, I am always impressed when lead counsel indicates that she will let her partner or associate address the matter because he is most familiar with the issue.

Finally, a common error is raising an inordinate amount of issues. This communicates to the court that counsel has not really thought through her case and is instead relying on the court to sort it out. Being an effective advocate requires both judgment and courage— judgment to know what issues are critical and courage not to raise unnecessary issues.

Q: How would you recommend that an attorney proceed if he or she thinks oral argument would be helpful to the court?

First off, request oral argument. My practice is to generally grant argument if counsel requests it. However, before requesting such argument, be sure that such argument is going to materially add to your written submissions. In fact, counsel should state her reasons for requesting such argument. This exercise will force counsel to think about why oral argument is necessary and will also give the court an idea as to why oral argument may be prudent.

Q: What is your preferred procedure for receiving notification of an application for emergency relief? For example, should a practitioner file an emergent motion as well as contact your chambers to provide notice that a party is seeking emergent relief?

Counsel should first file the application with the clerk's office. The clerk will docket the matter and inform counsel to whom the matter is assigned. Counsel should also bring additional copies for the court, and the clerk's office will immediately deliver the additional copies to the court.

Before filing any application for emergent relief, counsel should review the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure as well as the local rules. One common error is failing to inform the opposing party of the filing when an ex parte submission is not permitted under the law.

Q: How would you describe the process of becoming a federal judge?

The process takes time, and also requires a lot of work by the candidate. Any candidate must be prepared to track down and confirm every aspect of her entire legal career and, for the most part, her adult life. For example, if you have ever spoken at an event, you must provide copies of the event (if available) and any remarks that you made. The process is also memorable; testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee with your family in attendance is a remarkable experience.

The process itself is actually two-fold. The first step is acquiring the proper experience so that you are qualified for the position. I do not think that anyone can plan on becoming a federal judge; there are too many variables beyond the control of a candidate. That being said, an attorney can certainly prepare herself so that if the opportunity arises, she is well qualified.

The second step is the actual nomination process. Within this aspect, there are factors that are within the candidate's control and those that are not. The key is focusing on matters within your control, such as preparing your Senate Judiciary questionnaire and preparing for the committee's questions. The other aspects, such as the dates of your hearing and of your vote, are out of your control. The senators are extremely helpful in this regard. I think that it is very important to respect the advice and consent process, not only because it is constitutionally required but also because that is the sphere in which the Senate operates on a daily basis.

Q: Is being a judge what you thought it would be?

It is far better than I had imagined. I knew that there were areas in which I did not have experience, such as class action matters. However, I have also learned of several areas of which I was not aware, such as a Hague Convention case regarding whether a child should stay in the United States or be returned to his birth country. The breadth of matters that we handle on a daily basis—from civil to criminal to certain appeals—makes the job incredibly interesting and challenging.

Q: What do you find most challenging about being a judge?

I find federal sentencing to be the biggest challenge. Based upon my determination, another person can be spending a great deal of time incarcerated. While this is an awesome responsibility, it is also essential to our justice system. I strive to ensure that a sentence is just.

Q: What do you find most rewarding about being a judge?

There are many aspects of the job that are rewarding. I am fortunate to work with terrific magistrate judges and district judges. I have interesting cases and get to watch talented attorneys ply their craft. I see litigants whose lives are impacted, sometimes to a large degree, by the outcome of cases before me.

My overarching goal as a judge is to ensure that all who appear before me are treated fairly. The greatest compliment that I could receive as a judge is if the attorneys and litigants before me agree that, win or lose, they got a fair shake and were heard.

Originally published in the New Jersey State Bar Association Federal Practice and Procedure Section, January 2017.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions