ROXBURY, NJ – Apart from "I'll take two!" what else can you say when the party host cruises over with a tray of pigs in blankets? How about this: “Did you know that the grandmother of Roxbury’s new judge invented those things?”
Indeed, Ira Cohen, Randolphs, and now Roxburys new man on the municipal bench, doesn’t have a stereotypical judge background; He doesn’t come from a family of attorneys. He isn’t part of a string of Ivy League graduates.
Cohen comes from a hard-working, entrepreneurial family from Newark, one whose name is on the blue and white boxes of "mini beef franks in puff pastry" stacked neatly in your grocer’s freezer.
“My grandmother, Pearl, invented cocktail franks,” said the 62-year-old Randolph resident who was chosen Tuesday night by the Roxbury Mayor and Council to sit on the municipal court bench. “She was a very influential woman in my life.”
That influence included working many of his younger years in the family hors d'oeuvres company, experiences that help Cohen relate to the people who end up before him in municipal court. “I find that, as a judge, if you are respectful and you treat people fairly, they know you have a job to do and they don’t take it personally,” he said.
Cohen has been serving as acting Roxbury judge since former Roxbury Municipal Court Judge Carl Wronko retired in December. The Roxbury Mayor and Council agreed to give Cohen the position. Council members, who had interviewed Cohen and eight other candidates, said all the candidates would have made great judges, but Cohen came out on top.
“We went through a process of written questions as well as oral,” said Cohen, who has served as Randolph’s municipal court judge since 2005 and frequently filled-in for Wronko over the years. “The questions dealt with our ability to be fundamentally fair, understanding who’s appearing before you, treating people with the utmost dignity and respect and my experiences with difficult situations and cases.”
Cohen acknowledged he had an advantage over the other applicants in that the Roxbury officials were able to see him on the bench. “They were very lucky … they had the ability to view me on site and see my performance,” he commented.
Cohen, a big New Jersey Devils fan, has been married for 34 years and has two sons (one who is graduating from law school on Friday and another who just got a comic book published). He has a law office in Denville and he served as the Randolph municipal prosecutor in 1998, 2003 and 2004.
“I will tell you that, in the 11 years I’ve been on the bench, I think I would be described as respectful and always fair,” he said. “I try to allow people to retain any dignity they may have. You don’t need to insult people to make your point.”
He said the most important thing he’s done is work to prevent young people from making bad decisions. “I get out into the schools and I talk to young people,” said Cohen, who participated in Roxbury’s recent “Every 15 Minutes” program. “You want to get in and influence young people. My goal is to keep all these kids safe. We are not looking for teen accidents and teen deaths. We want to reduce those. It’s been very troubling. I just read that there have been about 600 teen deaths in the last 10 years in New Jersey. In the blink of an eye, someone’s life can change. We try to impart that.”