Well-liked by his peers and with a real-world command of the mechanics of criminal-defense law, Blair Zwillman owns an impressive - and lengthy -- record of courtroom successes in his 32-year career. That record - which includes a three-year period in which he won acquittals in every case he tried - was built primarily in Essex County, where he has lived and worked most of his life.
By his own estimation, the 58-year-old Maplewood native was hardly single-minded about making criminal law a career ("My father was a lawyer, but I wasn't very deliberate about following his footsteps") - still, he recalls wandering down to the Newark courthouses as a teen to watch criminal trials of mobsters. Like many successful trial attorneys, Zwillman got his most valuable experience early on - first clerking in Hudson County for Superior Court Judge Joseph Thering, and later serving as a state deputy attorney general in Princeton. At 28, Zwillman teamed up with his brother Evan to launch their own practice, and over 22 years they built a diverse practice in Irvington and Maplewood in which Blair increasingly focused on criminal-defense work.
His remarkable win streak of eight straight acquittals came from 1986 to 1988; in his career he has tried more than 75 cases (some as a prosecutor), a high number in a field in which pre-trial dispositions are common. Over the last decade Zwillman has taken on more high-profile cases, including a major sex-abuse case, seven murder trials and several white-collar cases. Drug-related and sex-abuse cases are also a substantial part of Zwillman's caseload. By 2002, Woodbridge-based Wilentz, one of the largest and most prestigious firms in the state, recruited Zwillman - a team switch that reinforced his stature as one of the state's most respected criminal attorneys.
Today Zwillman is a shareholder in the firm's 7-attorney criminal-law services unit. Tall, deliberate in style and with rugged features, the gravel-voiced Zwillman cuts a memorable courtroom presence. Zwillman says he enjoys it all as much as when he started, particularly now that he's at Wilentz, where "we really serve our clients - we focus on them rather than how much toner is in the copier." He lives in Randolph, N.J., with his wife and their two young sons, ages 9 and 6.