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A Pillar of the Matrimonial Law Community Retires


Charles F. Vuotto, Jr.


The Honorable Joseph P. Testa, J.S.C. (ret) is a man whose career has taken many paths, each exceptional and each complementing the other.  From a retired colonel in the United States Army, to a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Laywers, Judge Testa seems to have done it all.  Prior to becoming a judge, Judge Testa practiced matrimonial law for the majority of his legal career. He was instrumental in founding the matrimonial portion of the New Jersey Association for Justice’s (formerly ATLA) annual Boardwalk Seminar.  After taking the bench in 1995, Judge Testa sat in the Family Division for almost 14 years.  During that time, he continued to be a distinguished panelist for ICLE seminars and adjunct professor of family law courses at Rutgers University School of Law – Camden.  In sum, Judge Testa epitomizes New Jersey matrimonial law. 

Now that he has retired from the judiciary, Judge Testa continues to remain active in the field through the New Jersey State Bar Association, sitting on the Family Law Executive Committee of its Family Law Section. 

 SEQ CHAPTER Judge Testa was honoured at a retirement dinner on September 24, 2010. His comments about his service to our country, his patriotism and strong passion to help children going through divorce are worth our considered attention.  The text of his speech follows:

I know it is appropriate to recognize honored guests on these special occasions.  So first, it is my pleasure and privilege to recognize all of you: my family, my friends, as each one of you is very special to me.  I thank each of you for coming to share this night with me.

 When trying to decide what to say tonight, two things very quickly came to mind, both of which my dad said many times to me over the years. “When you are going to make a speech, remember what Abraham Lincoln said, “There is nothing wrong with a short speech!” and more importantly, “Think it out and write it down, but always remember to speak from the heart!”. My dad gave many speeches in his career and although he always wrote them down, he rarely ever needed to use it — he was that great!  Tonight, I will attempt to use his wise advice. 

             God, family, duty, honor, Country, and children.  As most of you know, “duty, honor and Country” is the motto and creed of the prestigious United States military academy West Point – a creed quoted by many and lived by even more.  West Point is a place that I learned to call a home away from home for a number of years.  Growing up as a boy, I became interested in the military as my dad and uncles had served in the military during World War II.  (And yes, despite my youthful appearance, I am a World War II baby!)  My uncle, Colonel Louis P. Testa, who is now deceased, was an active duty Army combat officer and a decorated veteran of World War II, who continued to serve when I began my career in the Army.  I had read about the Academy and learned their immortal creed, adopting it as a guide to my life.  As I grew older and developed a deeper understanding, I expanded that creed to include God Almighty, family – where life begins and ends, and my goal of helping children.        

You see before you a blessed man, a man whose life has had its ups and downs, good and bad times, but through it all, I have always been guided by God.  When times were tough, especially during the many attempts to reach my goal of becoming a judge or when litigants would accuse me of various crazy things, or during my years promoting my dream, the Kids Count Program for children of divorce and separation (while being told I should not), those times were times when God was just reminding me what I already knew – that he was in charge, not me.  While all of those instances tested my fortitude, I fought through each one and HERE I AM!

            My family is the greatest gift that God has bestowed upon me and I could absolutely devote hours and hours to tell you about each member. My beautiful wife Jeanne, who, as a special education teacher perfected her teaching skills on me, her number one challenged student.  But with her continued love and dedication – HERE I AM!       

My beloved parents, brothers and sister, my in-laws, and extended family members, who each, in their own special way, helped mold me – HERE I AM! 

From my grandfather, Joseph Testa, and my father, the Honorable Frank J. Test, I learned how to live and work with honor in a very, very simple way.  Not by reading a book or listening to a lecture because they never told me how to live, they lived and let me watch them do it!  I miss them both so very much! 

My two sons, the loves of my life, the true bookends to my life, who kept each chapter in order and made it all meaningful and purposeful and full of love – HERE I AM!

            My two lovely and talented daughters, Kelly and Joelle, and my four wonderful grandchildren, Enzo, Elenna, Kate, and Giuseppe, who have given me a second chance in life to try to be a better parent, and a grandfather – HERE I AM! 

All these people, with their continued love, respect and support, many of whom are here tonight, including my young, 88 year old Mom, are the reason I stand before you tonight, retiring from the Judiciary of the State of New Jersey. 

            Duty is a powerful word.  It is also a responsibility difficult to live by and up to.  In my life, my duty was and continues to be to my family, my God, my Country, and to the children I worked with and for these past 15 plus years.  Duty to my Country was always simple, as I was a soldier even before I wore the uniform for 25 years.          My duty to our Country really came to light when I swore the oath as a young officer in the United States Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps, a proud and unforgettable moment in my life.  I had the great privilege of wearing the Army uniform and serving many places, including the United States Military Academy at West Point.  I still to this day get goose bumps at the unfurling of our flag and at the singing of our National Anthem.  America is the best Country in the world and may God bless it and those who serve it, each and every day.

            My duty and personal creed then expanded when I swore another oath and put on the robe on May 18, 1995.  It was then I had reached another goal in my life, to serve in the Family Division of the State of New Jersey Superior Court.  I will always cherish my days as a Judge as I consider it both an honor and a privilege.  I chose Family Court because to my dying day I will always believe that there is no other Court more important than Family Court. What can be more important than helping our children?

Serving in Family Court certainly had its moments and certainly tried every ounce of my patience, my knowledge, my skills and my common sense.  And yes, to the charge of bending or stretching the envelope at times when I heard those difficult cases concerning children, I am to guilty!  I tried everything I could to make sure the resolution was one that would serve that child’s best interest.  Doing so was quite an onerous task; a task where the only reward is in your heart and in your soul.  Was I successful in all those thousands of cases over the last almost 16 years? That I do not know.  Only those children’s lives will tell the story long after I am gone.

My duty to those children turned into a burning desire and a passion.        

Without a doubt, the greatest achievement of both my legal and judicial career is the Kids Count Program.  Kids Count was a program created to help children of divorce and separation as well as those children in homes of domestic violence and custody disputes, a program created by Pam Homan of the Cumberland County Court and myself. 

The program was unpopular with many and shut down after only 3 years, but it will always remain my badge of honor for children.  In my retirement, I shall strive to recreate the program with the help of one of our major universities in New Jersey.  I will continue my efforts of recreating the Kids Count program until it is implemented statewide.  For as the quote says:  “A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove . . . but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.” 

            My passion and desire to help children could not have been carried out each day without the help and support of the great staff of the Family Division.  These people choose to serve children and their families while witnessing each day child abuse and neglect, sexual abuse, domestic violence of all kinds, and children caught in the middle of custody wars, children suffering and crying out for our help.  I salute each staff member for your hard work, dedication, and loyalty.  Most importantly, I thank you on behalf of all those children you helped! You are the best! 

I could not, because of my hearing loss, have worked these last 6 years without my real time court reporters, who each day put the words on the screen of those lawyers and litigants in the most highly charged emotional court.  Their skill goes without equal and I thank you from the bottom of my heart!

I also thank the Sheriff’s Officers of the Cumberland County Courthouse.  Each of them is very special and dedicated to service. In my humble opinion, they are the best in the State of New Jersey.

I saved to mention last, my true soldiers –  my secretaries and law clerks.  My secretary of many years, Cassie Yakow, you may know her as the “quiet one”!  And my new secretary of 1 year, Elissa. Both did a wonderful job.  Cassie definitely covered my backside for 14 plus years, which is a difficult task when your boss sits in the Family Division. 

My 15 law clerks, what can I say.  Each so special and unique in their own way, but each exceptionally smart, dedicated and hard working.  Each one of them has touched my heart and have been and will continue to be a part of my family forever.  I could never have done this job without them! I love each one of you. 

            To serve in Family Court for many judges in our Country and in New Jersey is considered “bad duty” or “punishment”.  It is neither. It is an honor and a privilege to serve children and their families each day.

            I INVITE the State of New Jersey and our Judiciary to do more to help the Family Court staff and Judges to do their jobs with better resources and more staff.  Pick up that invitation and you will be rewarded in knowing that you have helped our children, the future leaders of this State, and our Country. 

            I INVITE our Legislators to pass simple but extremely important legislation.  To amend our laws to include as part of the mandatory parent-education program, a program for their children as well.  An easy task to do with one or two lines of legislation, but legislation so vital to our children.

            I INVITE our Supreme Court to amend our Rules of Court to include a children’s program as part of our parent education program.  Also a simple task, but so critical to our children’s welfare.

            All in all, those three things will help over 100,000 children each year in our state. 

            While they say you should interject a joke or humor in a speech, I say personally this is not the time for me to do that.  Besides you all know I have more practice being on the receiving end!

While for some retirement may be sad event, for me it is simply the closing of one chapter in my life and the opening of another – another which I know will include my continued duty to children.  It also serves as an opportunity to convey a message here tonight, for all memorable speeches that are remembered over time leave one with a message or food for thought.

            Let’s get back to the basics.  It is very simple to say and not that difficult to do.  Let’s work each day to support our Country and our troops, to keep our families close, and to find a way to help a child.   

            I challenge you to get up tomorrow, put up the American flag, and fly it high every day. 

I challenge you to put yellow ribbons on your front door and mailbox.  American men and women are still serving us and dying for us each day.  They need to know we love and support them.  I love them with all my heart and I salute them.

            I challenge you to ask your neighbors to put up their flags and ribbons and to help them if they need help to do it.  I would love to drive through each neighborhood in this County and this State and see a sea of flags and ribbons.  Do it not for me but for our troops – may God bless them!  I love this crazy mixed up Country and our flag.  Have you figured that out yet?

            I also love and cherish my Italian heritage.  The Italian language for me sings and when couched with an Italian saying or proverb, it is the best music in the world! 

Vivi la tua vita di ogni giorno al massimo, l’amore il vostro paese, amo la tua famiglia, mantenere i vostri figli vicini e brindo alla vita ogni giorno con un bicchiere di vino italiano! Con l’aiuto di Dio. Questi sono i segreti caro ad una vita lunga e felice a pieno riempimento! Che tu possa vivere una ogni Cento anni!

“Live your life each day to the fullest, love your country, love your family, keep your children close and toast life each day with a glass of Italian wine!  With the help of God, these are the cherished secrets to a long and happy fulfilling life!” 

May you each live a 100 years!  Tonight I shall pray that God blesses each of you and your families as he has blessed me.

            May God bless you, and may God bless America.

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