AVALON – Former state Assemblyman Marvin D. Perskie, 57, one of New Jersey’s most colorful and controversial attorneys, died Thursday [October 20, 1977] in the Atlantic City Medical Center following a lengthy bout with cancer.
He was the uncle of state Assemblyman and senate candidate Steven Perskie and lived at 40th and Bayberry Drive here.
A physically imposing figure and a fiery and dynamic speaker, Mr. Perskie was renowned throughout the state for his spontaneous courtroom outbursts and antics. But despite his unorthodox legal tactics, he was widely recognized as one of the state’s top courtroom lawyers.
John J. Callinan, Mr. Perskie’s law partner, was at the attorney’s bedside when death came at 10:30 a.m.
“As far as I’m concerned, Cape May County and New Jersey lost a great lawyer,” Callinan said. “And I’ve lost my dearest friend and partner. He made landmark law.”
Tributes began pouring in from friends and former adversaries alike shortly after his death was announced.
“Marvin Perskie was a fine aggressive lawyer, devoted to his family and profession and intensely interested in the world around him,” said state Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard J. Hughes who learned of the death in Durham, N.C.
“He was very ethical and factual. He didn’t gloss over his cases and he didn’t exaggerate,” Hughes said. “He was intensely loyal to his clients.”
Superior Court Judge George B. Francis said, “I hate to sound trite, but Marvin was a legend in his own time. He was a take-charge type of guy, a dynamic individual the likes of which we’ll never see again. I’ve lost a very, very good friend.”
Former Republican congressman Charles W. Sandman, who often swapped political charges with Mr. Perskie, called him one of the “finest people I’ve ever known.
“He was a good, loyal friend with whom I spent thousands of enjoyable hours,” Sandman said. “I missed him a lot since he became ill. I’m going to miss him a whole lot more now.”
Cape May County Judge James A. O’Neill, who served 10 years as Cape May County prosecutor, recalled numerous court battles with Perskie both as a prosecutor and judge.
“Marvin was always the preeminent defense counsel,” O’Neill said. “Marvin always impressed me with his tremendous comprehension of the law and his diligent fight for the rights of his clients. He made better lawyers out of all of us, because he made us work.”
Mr. Perskie was born in Atlantic City and graduated from Atlantic City High School in 1938. In 1942, he graduated “magna cum laude” and Phi Beta Kappa from Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., where he excelled on the school’s swimming team and set records that have yet to be broken.
Mr. Perskie was a decorated hero during World War II. As a Marine Corps lieutenant he led an assault against Japanese troops on Okinawa in the Pacific. He also participated in the invasions of Bougainville, Emirau and Guam and was awarded the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Silver Star, and was promoted to captain in the Marine Corps Reserves.
In 1948, he went to Israel to help form and train the Israeli Marine Corps.
When the Korean War broke out in 1950, Mr. Perskie was recommissioned a major in the Marines and spent 18 months in Southeast Asia. He went on to become a major and eventually retired from the Marine Corps Reserves as a lieutenant colonel in the early 1960s.
Rabbi Seymour Atlas of Beth Judah Temple in Wildwood said Mr. Perskie’s death was a tremendous blow to the state of Israel.
“He was so devoted to Israel that there was nothing he wouldn’t do for her,” said Rabbi Atlas, who will officiate at Perskie’s services today.
“He was so Jewish when it came to Israel that I doubt anyone could exceed him in his sincerity in this respect,” the clergyman noted.
Following World War II, Mr. Perskie entered the University of Pennsylvania Law School and received his law degree in 1948. He entered private practice with the family law firm of Perskie and Perskie in Atlantic City. The firm was founded by Perskie’s late father, state Supreme Court Justice Joseph B. Perskie.
The family held the unique distinction of being the only law firm in the state comprised of a father and three sons. The four attorneys were all graduates of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, the only time a father and three sons accomplished that feat.
Mr. Perskie’s mother, the late Beatrice M. Perskie, was a prominent member of various civic organizations and was president of the Atlantic City school board for more than 15 years.
As a young lawyer in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Mr. Perskie was an outspoken critic of Atlantic City’s administration and a political foe of the late state Sen. Frank S. “Hap” Farley.
Mr. Perskie’s political career was launched in 1949 when he was defeated in a bid to capture the state Assembly seat from Atlantic County. Undaunted by his failure, Mr. Perskie ran for City Commission in Atlantic City in 1952 but was soundly defeated.
Mr. Perskie’s opposition to the Farley political machine dates back to his high school days when he served as an Atlantic City lifeguard. After a grueling swimming test, Mr. Perskie was informed that his appointment as a guard had been approved by Farley.
“I earned that appointment,” Mr. Perskie recalled years later. “Farley never took that test for me. I did it myself.”
Mr. Perskie’s legal skills gained nationwide attention during the early 1950s when he defended the “Four Horsemen,” four Atlantic City policemen accused of shaking down racketeers in the resort and staging unauthorized raids on illegal gambling houses. Mr. Perskie won acquittals for three of the four policemen, a feat many felt was impossible.
Fred Warlick, one of the so-called “Four Horsemen,” said Mr. Perskie was a man who refused to be intimidated by political threats.
“He was on your side if he knew you were right,” Warlick said. “He took our case when we were indigent, when other lawyers wouldn’t touch the case. He worked for 18 months for nothing because he believed in us and he had his ideals.”
Frustrated in his attempts to gain political office and further his law practice in Atlantic County in the face of the Farley machine, Mr. Perskie moved to Wildwood in 1955. He took over the law firm of Harry Tennenbaum and renamed it Perskie and Perskie. His brothers continued their Atlantic City law practice under the same name. The new firm became known as Perskie and Callinan in the late 1960s when attorney John J. Callinan joined the organization.
The practice grew to become one of the busiest in southern New Jersey.
Democratic state Sen. Joseph L. McGahn, whose senate seat is being challenged by Mr. Perskie’s nephew, Steven, said he often consulted with Mr. Perskie on legislative matters.
“He was a good legislator, a respected attorney, a fine Marine and a strong supporter of Israel,” Dr. McGahn said. “His death is a loss to the legal community and to the entire area.”
McGahn’s brother, attorney Patrick T. McGahn, said the entire state has suffered a great loss.
“His integrity was unquestioned despite the hard-driving and fight he displayed in so many aspects of his life,” McGahn said.
Although Perskie often gave the impression of being a gruff individual, McGahn said he “was really soft underneath it all.
“I owe a great deal of my success, whatever that may be, to his guidance and training,” McGahn continued.
As an attorney, Mr. Perskie was no stranger to both the state and U.S. Supreme courts. His untiring efforts and legal arguments to win hospital recognition for osteopathic physicians paid off in the late 1960s. Laws were passed forcing hospitals in the state to recognize those doctors. He is also credited with establishing the laws on the rights of non-tenured teachers in the early 1970s.
Mr. Perskie was widely recognized as an authority in the entire field of medical malpractice and authored several articles on the subject which were published in various legal and medical magazines.
In 1965, Mr. Perskie turned to the political limelight and in a stunning upset became only the second Democrat in 40 years to be elected state Assemblyman from Cape May County. Two years later, Mr. Perskie set his sights on the state Senate seat held by Farley. But his bid to topple Farley was thwarted when the state realigned legislative districts and combined Cape May and Cumberland counties as one district.
Mr. Perskie ran for the reelection to what had become the new Cape May-Cumberland Assembly seat, but was defeated by attorney James S. Cafiero, a Republican, who is now minority leader of the state Senate.
As a legislator, Mr. Perskie was one of the first lawmakers to call for the creation of a state lottery.
Leaving public office, Mr. Perskie again assumed an active role in his private law practice and for a period served as solicitor for the communities of Avalon and Sea Isle City. Last year, Mr. Perskie opened an office in Atlantic City after he was retained by Resorts International Inc. to represent the company during the casino gambling transition period.
He is survived by a son, Daniel M., and two daughters, Mrs. Lisa Rodriguez and Robin D., all at home, and a brother, attorney Lawrence Perskie of Margate.
His wife, the late Bebe Haidee Perskie, died June 16.
Services for Mr. Perskie will be at 1 p.m. today at the Roth Memorial Chapel in Atlantic City. Burial will be in Beth Kehillah Cemetery, Cardiff.
A Marine Corps honor guard will attend the funeral and will fire a graveside volley in Mr. Perskie’s memory.
Pallbearers will be Steven Perskie, Philip J. Perskie, John J. Callinan, Henry Gorelick, Robert Golden, Jerome A. Spatz, Art Williams and Phil Maiorana.
Named as honorary pallbearers are Gilbert Ramagosa, Dr. Robert G. Salasin, Edwin Helfant and Alan L. Perskie.
The family requests expressions of sympathy be sent to the Ruth Newman Shapiro Cancer Memorial Fund, 7408 Ventnor Avenue, Margate.