From friendly ribbing to emotional recollections of life’s journey, Brick Township’s former mayor began a new chapter Thursday, being sworn in as a Superior Court judge in Ocean County’s historic courtroom in Toms River.
The popular three-term mayor was appointed to the bench and confirmed by the state Senate last month, and will now formally begin hearing cases in the court’s Family Division following the administration of the oath of office in front of hundreds of dignitaries.
Those lucky enough to get a seat at the ceremony, held in Courtroom One, heard stories of the birth of Ducey’s son, Jack, just 11 days after being elected mayor, law clerk friends who will now serve as judges together, the pride his father – who passed away when Ducey was a teenager – would have felt looking on, and an allusion to a new judicial nickname borne out of Ducey’s status as an admitted “Parrothead” who follows singer Jimmy Buffett.
The ceremony was emceed by Brick Township attorney Kevin Starkey, with speeches delivered by Judge Brian White, Ducey’s brother-in-law, and Brick Township Business Administrator Joanne Bergin, who teared up while describing the “best time of my life” working beside the former mayor at town hall.
“He’s known by many as a man of few words, so over the years I developed a sort of savvy” to interpret the mayor’s reaction to a proposal, Bergin said. “I had the honor of watching the man of few words blossom into the role of mayor, a boots-on-the-ground, truly respected, man of the people. If you’ve ever gone to a meeting, a luncheon, a social event with him, you would understand his enormous popularity.”
Bergin described Ducey as a man characterized by acting with an even-keel, developing novel ideas to improve Brick Township (“nine football fields” of commercial space in the township was filled thanks to his first-in-the-state “empty storefront” program), yet always making sure to put the needs of wife, Deirdre, and son, Jack, first. It was Jack who led the courtroom in the Pledge of Allegiance as the ceremony began.
“He is a true example of diplomacy and grace,” said Bergin. “The judiciary will now benefit from having the man I called ‘the people whisperer’ on the bench.”
Colleagues and Friends
Starkey was one of Ducey’s first appointees after becoming mayor, and served throughout his tenure. After nearly a decade, Starkey came to one conclusion: “He loved being mayor.”
“He’d go to the Little League games, the schools, the grand openings. Kids would come up and ask to take selfies with him,” he recalled.
Ducey famously kept an “analogue” notebook with events penciled in, despite others having switched to calendar apps on smartphones. But the book, Starkey said, served as an example of how Ducey balanced his duties as mayor and duties as a husband and father.
“When he opened that notebook once a week, he would say, ‘Jack has a baseball game on Wednesday, so that’s where I’m going,'” said Starkey. “Those were sacred times for him. Mayoral duties were not put aside for anything except his family, except for Jack, and that was the most impressive thing to me.”
Ducey, true to form, immediately pulled out his signature appointment calendar from the pocket of his suit jacket, to the laughter of the crowd.
Among his new colleagues is Ducey’s brother-in-law, Judge Brian White, who followed in the footsteps of his father to earn a seat behind the bench. It was through White that Ducey met Deirdre, and the two friends who were former law clerks together will now preside over cases at the same courthouse.
“I know you’re going to continue to make Ocean County incredibly proud,” he said.
After being sworn in, Ducey donned a traditional black judge’s robe and looked out upon the packed courtroom. He reflected upon the major responsibilities as serving as mayor – going from a solo legal practitioner to overseeing a staff of 500 municipal employees. His wife, he said, was his biggest supporter.
“She has stood by my side through my various adventures in life – getting married, buying our first condo, our first house, putting in a pool, and starting a law firm with exactly zero clients,” he said with a chuckle. “I’ve spent twelve years under the scrutiny of being in the public life, which means you spent twelve years being under the scrutiny of public life and all that comes with that. Best of all, we had our son Jack. I can’t believe I’m so lucky that I get to spend my life with you.”
Many of the qualities his colleagues referenced during the ceremony were those Ducey said would guide him throughout his new career in the judiciary.
“I promise to be impartial, unbiased, and maintain a calm demeanor – work hard, follow the law, and the constitution – and also show compassion so that justice can always be obtained,” he said. “I promise to uphold the sanctity of this position so I can be a role model for those who hold this position after me, as those before me were role models to me. I hope that I can live up to all of those great judges who came before me.”