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  • Writer's pictureJudge Michael Donio

Ask the Judge: What kind of attitude do you need to be a prosecutor?

What kind of attitude and work ethic do you need to be a prosecutor? My daughter watches lots of “Law and Order” on TV and wants to prosecute those kinds of crimes.

The biggest thing someone needs to understand about a prosecutor is that they are not there to secure convictions at any cost—even if they know a case is tainted. The duty of a prosecutor is to see that justice is done. I handled many criminal cases that were almost ready for trial but, upon discovering new evidence, the prosecutor would initiate a conference with me and defense counsel, and come in and say that they found exculpatory information that they thought created the minimum reasonable doubt that a defendant committed a crime, and that they were moving to downgrade the offense—or totally dismiss it.

That is what a good prosecutor is supposed to do.

With that being said, prosecutors and public defenders have always had somewhat of a reputation that the job was easy and not as stressful as someone in private practice. While I will say that most prosecutors and public defenders do not put the number of hours into a work week as someone in private practice, the good ones do. I know many prosecutors, when preparing for trial, would be in their office on Saturdays and in the evenings, preparing just like a private lawyer.

The bottom line is, what you do as far as your work ethic and preparation is totally on you. If you want to be at the top of your profession, any type of job in the law takes time and effort. You can just go through the motions from Monday to Friday, and no more, and your results will reflect that. If you are willing to work and put the time in, you can become an excellent prosecutor and be proud of your work.

My wife and I have been separated for four years. We have not divorced, due to costs involved. Can we stay separated until we die?

The answer to that is yes.

When you say you haven’t processed your divorce due to costs, I am therefore assuming that you have very few assets to divide up. You must remember that New Jersey is an equitable distribution state, and not a 50-50 division state, upon a divorce. What someone brings into the marriage, inherits and things of that nature, are separate property of that person—even throughout the marriage—if it is kept separate and apart, and not co-mingled. However, based on your question, major assets are not an issue.

As far as living separate and apart without getting divorced, of course you can do that. However, if you die without a will in the state of New Jersey, your estate gets divided according to how the law reads; you both should have a will so that, upon the death of either of you, whatever assets you own in your own name go to whomever you want. If, for instance, you die without a will and have a lot of assets—and are still legally married—your wife, even though separated, would inherit a large portion of your estate.

Therefore, it would be very important to get wills done so, upon your death, your assets—whatever they may be—can go to whomever you wish instead of your in-name-only spouse.

Judge Michael Donio served as a New Jersey State Superior Court Judge for 20 years before retiring on July 31, 2015. He now operates a legal consulting and mediation firm on the White Horse Pike. Donio can be reached by calling (609) 481-2919. Send your questions for his columns to


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