Frank LaRocca sees the law from both sides of the bench

By:  | July 3, 2024 Features Monmouth County

By Bill Clark

 

Like many lawyers, Frank LaRocca can say he knows the law inside and out. But unlike most, the Freehold-based family law attorney views it through a unique perspective, also serving as a municipal judge for the town of Keyport. 

But LaRocca approaches both sets of responsibilities with the same thoughtful process that he says is pivotal to being successful in the world of law. 

LaRocca has been a practicing attorney since 2004, focusing on matrimonial and family law, but the Bronx, NY native never intended on ever helping litigate issues in a courtroom. 

After moving to Manalapan as a junior in high school, LaRocca’s plans post-graduation did not involve receiving a college education. 

“I decided I was going to work for a living,” he said. “I was a Teamsters apprentice and my mother and my grandfather told me that they were going to cut me off unless I went back to college.”

With a clear incentive, LaRocca enrolled at William Paterson University and studied Psychology. For several years after, LaRocca worked in finance. He ultimately found his way to Pace University School of Law in White Plains, NY where he debated which type of law he wished to focus on. Pace University focused on Environmental Law, but the lack of job opportunities in the field did not entice him. 

Having been offered a job at a firm in Hackensack while he pursued his law degree at night, LaRocca met an attorney that he took to. The attorney specialized in family law and LaRocca overheard him discussing one of his cases with a colleague. Both were discussing how they believed that a husband was defrauding his wife by claiming he had more stocks than he was disclosing. Records had shown that there were double the amount of trades, which sent up red flags in the process. 

LaRocca listened and then called back knowledge from his finance days, asking if the records they were looking at took place on the NASDAQ stock exchange.

“I said the NASDAQ counts the buy and sell as two transactions, not one,” he said. “It's always going to report double.”

The attorney told LaRocca he was going to work with him, and a career in family law was born. 

“Divorce law deals with custody and finance, and that's what I had experience in,” he said.

Now, LaRocca said at this point in his career he is at liberty to choose the cases he takes on, including his role as a municipal judge. 

LaRocca takes the same approach whether he is on the bench or arguing in front of one. 

“If it's about destruction, I'm not about it. I'm trying to help people get through a difficult time,” he said. 

As an attorney, he has a clear objective to get the best outcome for his clients. He uses his wealth of knowledge and experience to navigate the intricacies of the judicial system. 

As a judge, LaRocca has the ultimate say in what happens within his courtroom. He does not work from a position of satiating his ego. LaRocca understands that the decisions he makes not only affect people in that moment, but potentially for the rest of their lives. 

LaRocca was uncertain when the opportunity presented itself. He was under the impression that municipal judges were tasked with issues like fines for motor vehicle violations or neighborhood disputes.

“I thought municipal court was the dog peed on somebody else’s lawn,” he said with a laugh.

LaRocca consulted with a local judge and discussed his concerns and thoughts. He came away from the conversation illuminated to the fact that he would not simply be rendering judgements on routine everyday disputes. It was a chance to be engaged with the local community, a ground floor view of what affected the township. 

“I've seen the people that have been a product of the system that never gave them an opportunity, never believed that they could take care of themselves and correct some of their misdeeds and give them a chance to,” he said. “I've given them a chance to show me and tell them I have faith in them, that they can make changes and it's really made a big difference.”

The punitive nature of the justice system is not necessarily what LaRocca believes is best for certain people that may need assistance. He points to rehabilitative programs that he has championed for people with drug, alcohol or mental health issues. The programs have taken hold in other municipalities throughout Monmouth County. 

Even in cases like shoplifting, which LaRocca admits is detrimental to society as a whole, those accused receive consideration under his adjudication. Those that steal because they are hungry may receive relief from that need under incarceration, but immediately find themselves back under duress upon release. 

“I could send them to or encourage them to sign up for the recovery diversion program where they work with county resources to beat or get ahead of their drug addiction and change people's lives,” he said. “That's really the most fulfilling part of my job now is trying to change people's lives.”

That empathy and care is embedded in the DNA of LaRocca’s career. Years ago, he learned from a veteran attorney that the profession was about his knowledge of the law and the judicial system, but equally as important is how well he knew his clients. It is not enough to know one part of your client, you have to have a deep understanding of who they are and what they need. 

“You got to know what they like, what they don't like, what their business is about and what their personal life is about,” he said. “It's really a commitment to dealing with people.”

“The modern way of communication is not enough when it comes to that,” he said. Texting and emails may serve a purpose, but when it comes to truly knowing a client, LaRocca said that you have to hear their voice.

“You have to pick up the phone. You have to talk to them. You have to get to know and understand their circumstances.”

LaRocca has taken the lessons he has learned as the arbiter in a courtroom to improve his own practice as an attorney. In the heat of arguments, LaRocca has realized how valuable taking a step back and approaching disputes in a calm, deliberate manner can have on his opposition and the judge overseeing the case. 

“As a judge I listen, I measure what I say, I think fully before I render a decision and give everybody an opportunity to be heard,” he said. “And as a lawyer, I take a breath and I allow my adversary to finish because I'll get my chance. If I deliver the message more cogently and less aggressively, the message has been heard.”

LaRocca brings all these tenets into his practice, including the tangible. The building on South Street in Freehold which houses his firm sits on the edge of the neighborhood. The sign declaring the names of he and his partners is the only true tip that it is not merely a residence with ample parking. LaRocca sits in an office near the front, which allows him a vantage of the entrance. 

“I want to know what's going on in my community, what's going on around me,” he said. 

The building doubles as a symbol of his dedication to the business itself. After two years in the location, LaRocca does not say that the journey is complete, merely on the way as they have had to make renovations to the space. 

LaRocca has a history of self-improvement as well. In his younger years, LaRocca was an avid weightlifter. Both a way to burn some energy and refocus the mind, weightlifting was a medium of release. 

“I would go to the gym in the morning and get the crazy out, so to speak,” he said.

Now older, LaRocca is still active in the adult softball scene and sees the value of organized team sports. In his capacity as a mentor to younger professionals, he connects the ideas of the playing field to the office. 

“[It’s about] using the team concept and using your know how to be responsible to your teammates. And how to keep your ego down and your performance up.”

 

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