Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Maja Leon Berry (1877-1961)

From the December 30, 1937 Danville Bee.

    New Jersey attorney and jurist Maja Leon Berry occupied a prominent place in Garden State public life, being an attorney based in the city of Camden for many years. A past judge of the Ocean County Court of Common Pleas, Berry would be appointed as Vice Chancellor of the Chancery Division of the Supreme Court of New Jersey in 1925, subsequently serving on the bench for over two decades. 
   The son of Samuel and Sarah Louisa Willetts Berry, Maja Leon Berry was born in West Creek Township, New Jersey on January 2, 1877. A student in the Ocean County public school system, Berry spent his adolescence as a teacher in Ocean County and in the late 1890s began persuing the study of law, enrolling at the University of Pennsylvania's Law School. He graduated from that institution in the class of 1902 and shortly thereafter was admitted to the New Jersey bar. He established his first law practice in Camden and in 1905 formed a partnership with another attorney, John Adelbert Riggins, their firm continuing until it became defunct in 1922. 
   Maja L. Berry married in October 1900 to Edna Steelman (1876-1961), a native of Tuckerton, New Jersey. Married for over sixty years, Berry and his wife are believed to have been childless through the entirety of their marriage.
   In 1907 New Jersey Governor Edward Stokes appointed Maja Berry as judge of the Ocean County Court of Common Pleas. Just thirty years old at the time of his appointment, Berry served on the bench until 1912, when he resigned to accept the post of counsel for Ocean County. He continued in this role until May 1925, when he received the appointment of Vice Chancellor of the Chancery Division of the New Jersey Supreme Court. He was reappointed to the bench in 1932 and 1939, and in December 1937 made headlines in several newspapers when he ruled against picketing workers at the Canter's Sample Furniture Store in Newark. In his verdict, Berry prohibited the strike, noting that: 
"For its primary object the enforcement of the closed shop upon an employer and the creation of a monopoly in the employment of a particular trade in a given locality."
                                                    Maja Leon Berry, from the Bench and Bar of New Jersey, 1942.

   Berry left the office of Vice Chancellor in the late 1940s and afterwards returned to the practice of law. He joined the law firm of Berry, Whitson and Berry (founded by his nephew Franklin) in 1948 and continued to be affiliated with it until his death thirteen years later. Active in a number of non-judicial areas in Ocean County, Maja Berry was a past director of the Beach Haven National Bank and Trust Company and was a longstanding parishioner at the Toms River Presbyterian Church, being a member of the board of trustees as well as a teaching a men's bible studies class. Berry is also noted as belonging to several fraternal groups, including the Masons, Knights Templar and the Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine.
   On July 3, 1961 Maja Berry's wife of 60 years, Edna, died at age 84. He survived her by nearly two months, passing away (also aged 84) on August 30th. Both he and his wife were subsequently interred at the Riverside Cemetery in Toms River, New Jersey. 

                                             Maja Leon Berry in 1930,  from "Along the Toms River", published 1996.

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