Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 37
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
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Former Borough Attorney Michael J. Herbert Dies at Age 73

Anne Levin

Michael J. Herbert, who served as Princeton’s municipal attorney and handled the legal challenges involved in building the Spring Street Garage, died Tuesday morning of pancreatic cancer at the age of 73. Mr. Herbert was a partner with the firm Herbert, Van Ness, Cayci and Goodell of Lawrenceville and lived in Titusville.

“I’ve known him a long time, way back to my days when I worked in Trenton for the New Jersey Education Association and he worked in Governor Hughes’s office,” said former Borough Mayor Marvin Reed. “Years later, he was one of the attorneys that the NJEA used in litigation. When I got into local politics and [former Borough Mayor] Barbara Sigmund was looking for a municipal attorney, she asked what I thought about him. I said he’d be terrific. It was the beginning of a long association. I kept him on the whole 13 years I was mayor. He was great for us.”

A graduate of Seton Hall University School of Law, Mr. Herbert was instrumental in the 1983 Mount Laurel decision making affordable housing mandatory for municipalities. He served for one year as confidential secretary to New Jersey Governor Richard J. Hughes.

“I’ve known him since I was 10 years old,” said Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes, son of the former governor. “He was a great attorney, the consummate professional. I think because I knew him that long, I knew there was a softer side that you didn’t see at some of these rough and tumble municipal meetings. He was dedicated to his family, his faith, and his friends. He was a good friend to all of us — to me, my seven brothers and two sisters.”

Borough Councilman Roger Martindell worked with Mr. Herbert during his years as legal counsel to Princeton Borough. “He was very knowledgeable about municipal law, and, growing up in Jersey City, he had a keen sense of what was practical politically,” Mr. Martindell wrote in an email. “In his demeanor, he was also very much a gentleman. He provided sound advice to the Borough and to the four Borough mayors and many Council members who were privileged to work with him over the last two decades. We’ll miss him.”

In addition to his work in Princeton, Mr. Herbert was also the municipal attorney for the townships of West Windsor and Plainsboro. He was associate counsel for the New Jersey League of Municipalities and served on the Governor’s Transition Committee on Personnel in 2001. For 29 years, he was the primary attorney for the New Jersey State Interscholastic Association (NJISAA).

Mr. Herbert was an Army veteran who sat on several philanthropic boards. He was president of the Catholic Charities Diocese of Trenton. He served as counsel to the Diocese, the Standard Bred Breeders Association, and the Mercer County Vo-Tech and Special Services Schools.

A viewing for Mr. Herbert will take place Thursday, September 15 from 5-9 p.m., and Friday, September 16 from 10-10:45 a.m. at St. James Church, 115 East Delaware Avenue in Pennington. The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Friday, September 16.

Mr. Reed recalled Mr. Herbert as a dedicated lawyer respected for his legal mind and dedication. “He was not only meticulous, he was dogged,” he said. “If you got into litigation, you couldn’t pick anyone more determined. He was a great guy to have around. He’d have an immaculate brief, and he would go in and argue it with as much emotion as anybody I know, to rise to the occasion.”

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