ROXBURY, NJ – After two decades of drugs, alcohol, speeding cars, fisticuffs and other petty waywardness, Carl Wronko finally had enough. “It was a real good run,” he said. “I enjoyed it.”
He’s 69 years old and he wants a better lifestyle. So late last year Wronko told the Roxbury Mayor and Council he was no longer interested in being the township’s municipal judge. As of Jan. 1, he was done with the seemingly endless parade of drug busts, driving while intoxicated arrests, domestic abuse charges and petty assault cases.
“I said to myself, ‘Carl, stop working and take some trips with your wife. Do some new things,’” Wronko said. “It took me a while to decide. I enjoyed being judge. But it’s time to do other things in life.”
Raised in Fairfield, Wronko moved to Roxbury in 1975 and began a 20-year stint as the township judge when he was appointed in 1994. He was nominated for the job by former Roxbury Mayor Robert Badini, whom he’d known since his West Essex High School days.
Wronko’s path to becoming a lawyer began as a young man. He said he took interest in the law after meeting a lawyer who worked in the same building as his father, an accountant. After graduating from Rutgers University and finding that a degree in history wasn’t particularly practical, Wronko headed for Seton Hall University School of Law.
It was the Vietnam War era and while many took the opposite approach, Wronko decided to leave school and join the military. “I took a few years off, joined the Army and did the Vietnam thing,” he said, noting he figured he “should serve” because his grandfather served in World War 1 and his father did the same in World War 2.
Not only did Wronko emerge alive from Southeast Asia, he also came home in love. It was in Vietnam that he met an Army nurse named Christine, the woman he would marry 47 years ago.
Upon returning to New Jersey, Wronko headed back to law school. After graduating in 1973, he clerked for a judge in Morristown for a year, worked for a law firm in Boonton for a year and then landed at a law firm in Succasunna. He stayed there until 1991, when he opened his own practice in Roxbury, a town that he praises and does not plan on leaving.
“I’m very comfortable here,” said Wronko, a community-minded man who served as a coach to youth soccer, basketball and softball teams when his son and daughter were young. “I was involved in starting the Roxbury soccer program years ago. I belonged to the Rotary and Knights of Columbus. Now I want to go back and do more volunteer work in the community. I love the town and I think it’s a good place to raise kids.”
As for observations gained from 20 years on the bench, Wronko said his main take-away is somewhat depressing: Not much has changed over the years. People still drink and drive and do drugs and disobey speed limits no matter how many get caught or how the Legislature increases the penalties.
“It just seems like it never stopped,” he said. “When I started, I had drug cases involving kids. As I’m going out, on my last day, I found myself still doing drug cases and speeding cases. You would think that, after a lot of years, word would get out better that, if you are going to go out and you socially drink, then don’t drive. But I still got 15 to 20 DWI cases per month and that number held true for most of the time I was a judge.”
He believes he was fair to all who appeared before him. "My philosophy was I tried to treat everybody like I would want to be treated if I were on the other side of the bench," Wronko said. "Many people may not have liked the result they got, but at least they understood how I arrived at it."