Members of Tau Kappa Epsilon at Rutgers–Newark, circa 1975, assemble for a brotherly portrait on the steps of the fraternity. More than 40 years after entering Rutgers, Maenza, Maron, Arre, Brindisi, and Bariso remain friends, united by their common vocation and their common roots. Photography courtesy Peter BarisoThey were five working-class guys from northern New Jersey who wound up together at Rutgers–Newark in the 1970s because it was affordable and close enough to their homes that they could commute. They all worked their way through school, sometimes holding down multiple part-time jobs.Back then, when they were doing homework together or planning Saturday night’s party at the Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE) fraternity, to which they had all pledged, none of them ever dared to project four decades into the future and envision that one day all five would become New Jersey judges.
But that’s what happened.
Nicholas Brindisi is the longtime municipal judge in Cedar Grove. Philip Maenza, Lawrence Maron, Patrick Arre, and Peter Bariso serve as superior court judges—Maenza NCAS’72 in the Morris County Courthouse, in Morristown, and Maron NCAS’75, Arre NCAS’76, and Bariso NCAS’76, NLAW’79 in Jersey City (though Arre is temporarily assigned to the Historic Courthouse in Newark).
“There are 93,000 lawyers in New Jersey and only 350 judges in superior court,” Maenza says. “What are the odds that four of us would be in superior court and Nick in municipal court?”
More than 40 years after entering Rutgers–Newark, the five fraternity brothers remain friends, united by their common vocation and, perhaps, their common roots. Arre’s father owned a bakery in Newark, where Maenza’s father owned a car-repair shop and Brindisi’s father worked as a blacksmith. Bariso’s father worked in a dye house in Paterson, and Maron’s father worked in the engineering department of Hewitt–Robbins, a Passaic company that made conveyor belts.
Some of their friendships took root even before Rutgers–Newark. Maron and Bariso grew up in Paterson and went to high school together at Paterson Catholic. Brindisi NCAS’75, who grew up in Belleville, and Arre, from Newark’s North Ward, went to high school together at Essex Catholic, where both fenced saber for the school’s state championship team. Later they both fenced at Rutgers–Newark.
Maenza, who lived in Irvington and went to high school at Seton Hall Prep, then based in South Orange, was the first to arrive at Rutgers–Newark and the first to join Tau Kappa Epsilon. He was beginning his senior year, in September 1971, when Brindisi and Bariso joined the fraternity. Over the next four years, it seemed, Brindisi and Bariso did just about everything together. Later, when they got married, they would be the best man at each other’s wedding. Brindisi’s wife, June NUR’76, and Bariso’s wife, Joan, are first cousins. “Nicky and I are almost like brothers,” Bariso says.
At Rutgers–Newark, which had no dorms and few social institutions, the handful of fraternities filled a gap in student life. Tau Kappa Epsilon was a century-old, redbrick row house on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, just outside the campus. There was no elaborate selection process to gain membership into TKE—“No hazing, no torture,” Brindisi says—and many days found the future judges passing their free time there.
“We’d basically hang out all day long,” Maenza says. “We all had the same classes pretty much. We would compare notes; that was the good part. They were really smart guys. I benefitted from their intelligence. We always stayed friendly. We never had any arguments—no stealing girlfriends or anything like that. We all stayed brothers.”
Bariso was the first of the five to be made a superior court judge, in 2005, appointed by acting governor Richard Codey. He’s now the assignment judge for the Hudson Vicinage. Maenza was appointed by governor Jon Corzine in 2010, and Arre and Maron were named by governor Chris Christie a year later.
These days their schedules don’t allow much time for catching up. But when the opportunity arises, they take it. On a Saturday morning last spring, the five judges returned to the Rutgers–Newark Campus to pose for the photograph that accompanies this story. Afterward they retreated to Tops Diner, a one-time favorite haunt, still in business just across the Passaic River in Harrison. “Chatting it up,” Maenza says, “like we never missed a trick.” Five fraternity brothers sharing breakfast and shooting the breeze, just like old times. •
— Christopher Hann