William Walls, who served 25 years as a federal judge in New Jersey, has died. He was 86.
President Bill Clinton nominated Walls to serve as a U.S. District Court Judge in 1994, at the request of U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg and with the support of U.S. Senator Bill Bradley.
Walls began his public service career as the Assistant Corporation Counsel for the City of Newark in 1962 under Hugh Addonizio, a seven-term congressman who unseated incumbent Leo Carlin that year.
In 1968, Addonizio appointed Walls to serve as a Municipal Court Judge.
After Kenneth Gibson was ousted Addonizio in the 1970 Newark mayoral election, Walls was appointed the city’s first Black corporation counsel.
In 1973, Gibson named Walls to serve as the city Business Administrator.
Gov. Brendan Byrne nominated Walls to serve as an Essex County Court Judge in 1977.
Walls was first mentioned as a candidate for the federal court in 1979 when there were four vacancies on the U.S. District Court. An early short list of candidates included former State Sen. Jerry Fitzgerald English (D-Summit), the counsel to Byrne; federal bankruptcy referee Vincent Commisa; and H. Lee Sarokin, an Essex County attorney who had served as finance chairman of Bill Bradley’s 1978 U.S. Senate campaign.
Gibson had strongly advocated for Walls, while House Judiciary Committee Chairman Peter Rodino (D-Newark) was pushing for Commisa. Byrne weighed in on behalf of English.
Walls would have become New Jersey’s first Black federal judge, but eventually he was replaced on the list by Anne Thompson, the Mercer County Prosecutor. English and Commisa also lost their places on the list and were replaced by Superior Court Judge Harold Ackerman and Essex County attorney Dickinson Debevoise
President Jimmy Carter eventually nominated Sarokin, Thompson, Ackerman and Debevoise.
Walls became the presiding judge of the Civil Division of the Superior Court in Essex County and was serving there when Clinton nominated him to the bench in 1995. He succeeded Ackerman, who assumed senior status.
The judge had served on senior status since 2005.
Born in Atlantic City in 1932, Walls attended Dartmouth College and Yale Law School. He practiced law in Newark until Addonizio hired him in 1962.