Remembering Judge ‘Big Sam’ DeSimone

Judge Sam DeSimone often told a story about a particular case he was assigned to hear.

It was a complex bench trial that he knew would take at least six to eight weeks. The lawyers were bringing thousands of documents into the courtroom daily. He wanted to see if he could get the parties to settle, so during a hearing on the eve of the trial, he made one last-ditch appeal.

Judge "Big Sam" DeSimone

He told the attorneys, “I recommend you tell your clients that the judge is a simple tomato farmer and there is no way in the world that the judge will understand the complex issues in this case and will most certainly get it wrong.”

The lead attorney responded, “With all due respect your honor, we told the parties that yesterday.”

Self-deprecating humor was one of the trademarks of Samuel G. “Big Sam” DeSimone, longtime and beloved NJC faculty member. He passed away last month at his home in Mickleton, New Jersey, at the age of 88.

Judge DeSimone was affiliated with the College for more than 45 years, starting as a participant in General Jurisdiction in 1976. He went on to complete more than 15 additional courses.

He joined the faculty in 1986 and taught for the NJC nearly 100 times, including many sessions of GenJur, Dispute Resolution Skills, Managing Complex Litigation and Conducting the Trial. His last teaching assignment was in Dispute Resolution Skills in 2012.

Generations of NJC alumni will remember him strolling the classroom telling stories, suspenders straining over his girth. He continually praised correct answers, or even wrong answers that were close, with an enthusiastic “A++. Notify the dean immediately that we have another brilliant judge at the NJC!”

“He never had a bad word to say about anybody,” said William Brunson, the College’s director of special projects, international and custom. “He was always polite, a true gentleman.”

He was also widely known for his skills on the bench.

“He loved the ‘big, dumb old tomato farmer’ routine,” recalled longtime friend and teaching protégé Judge V. Lee Sinclair of Ohio. “Unknowing lawyers and litigants soon found out they were dealing with one of the nation’s finest jurists.”

Judge Sinclair said The New York Times dubbed Judge DeSimone “Settling Sam” because he was a wizard at getting people to agree. It was said that in his 25 years on the bench, he never had to hold anyone in contempt and never once used his gavel. “Not with my voice,” he told a reporter.

Judge DeSimone lost his sight in later years due to a stroke involving the optic nerve. The condition made him painfully sensitive to light, and in the days of overhead projectors he resorted to wearing sunglasses in class.

In addition to teaching for the NJC, he lectured in the United States and abroad such subjects as dispute resolution and caseflow management.

He and wife Eileen, who often accompanied him to the NJC, had seven children, 21 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. 

Upon his passing, the chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, Stuart Rabner, stated:

“Judge DeSimone was revered as a decorated U.S. Army veteran, a talented jurist, and a committed educator who taught judges on five continents. He left his mark as a respected 25-year veteran of the bench and the first assignment judge of the Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem vicinage. His was a life well-lived.”

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