Shrewd, poised and with a remarkable record of accomplishment, Alan Zegas has built a reputation as one of New Jersey's leading criminal defense attorneys. Even among the not-shy world of criminal lawyers, the 59-year-old Newark native maintains a fairly high profile - he is quoted widely in the press and makes frequent broadcast appearances - but his record on major cases speaks for itself: he represented former Newark Mayor Sharpe James in his federal trial and he has represented other high-level political officials and corporate executives. He's handled other celebrated cases, including defending day-care worker Kelly Michaels in the 1989 case in which her child-abuse conviction was thrown out; he successfully represented one of the Glen Ridge youths accused in that precedent-setting sexual assault case. He's appeared on 60 Minutes, The Bill O'Reilly Show and Court TV, among others, and had been quoted by virtually all major news organizations, including the New York Times, NPR and The Wall Street Journal.
For Zegas, the precocious son of a Newark liquor store owner ("I grew up in modest surroundings," Zegas says), the professional track wasn't obvious: he went to Penn's Wharton School of Business as an undergraduate and then Harvard Business School, both hallowed institutions, but hardly the province of future criminal-defense lawyers. He always aspired to be a courtroom attorney, but "my mother wanted me to have a 'Plan B'," he says. Upon graduating with honors from Rutgers Law School and serving as editor-in-chief of the Rutgers Law Review, Zegas clerked for Federal Judge H. Lee Sarokin - "one of my most important mentors" - and he later joined a Newark firm well known for its expertise in criminal and civil litigation. There, another influence - Harvey Weissbard, later a Superior Court Judge - further shaped Zegas' career.
Confident in his own skills and armed with unique credentials for a criminal attorney ("My business background gives me a great advantage in many white-collar cases"), Zegas launched his own practice in 1984, which today is based in Chatham. For years he took on public-defender cases for the state, the low pay offset by the valuable courtroom experience. Today Zegas has a team of five attorneys, and he's highly selective about his office's current caseload (between 100 and 150 per year), most of which come from referrals by other attorneys (often appellate work) and range from high-profile defenses of teachers and other public employees to complex white-collar criminal cases.
Zegas remains connected to his roots ("The only reunion I attend is of my elementary school in Newark") which shaped his commitment to fairness and social justice. What's more, he's a devoted family man (he and his wife have three daughters, one in college); he has run in five NYC marathons, enjoys playing the piano, and reads biographies extensively. He and his family live in New Providence, New Jersey.