• Michelle Dawn Mooney

Former Atlantic County Prosecutor Housel has died

Photo courtesy of family Ted Housel with his wife and four daughters.


Former Atlantic County Prosecutor Ted Housel has died. He was 63. The longtime defense attorney had returned to private practice after resigning at the end of his term in June 2012. Then illness caused him to take some time off. But even weak and ailing, the courtroom never left him, said friend Matthew Portella, who had taken over Housel’s caseload recently, just as he had when the private attorney became prosecutor. The last time Portella saw Housel was Monday, when he had to leave to handle a case for his friend. “I said, ‘Ted, I love you. I have to leave. I’ve got court tonight for one of your cases and it’s a trial,'” he recalled saying. With his eyes still closed, Housel immediately asked when and where. “At 6 o’clock, Absecon Municipal Court,” Portella replied. Housel opened one eye, looked right at his friend and said one word: “Win.” “And that was Ted,” Portella said. “Ted loved the courtroom. He loved outwitting his adversary and he loved doing the best he could for his clients and his friends and his family.” Housel was a successful private defense attorney when he was appointed prosecutor in 2007 by then-Gov. Jon Corzine. Housel later said he took a pay cut for the position, and looked at Atlantic County’s residents as his new clients. “He had the unique distinction of being one of the most prominent and respected criminal defense attorneys in Atlantic County and then became the county’s chief law enforcement official,” said Atlantic City defense attorney James Leonard Jr. “No matter what side he was on, Ted was always a strong advocate and extremely passionate about the rule of law.” His time as a defense attorney “gave Ted a good perspective for when he became the county prosecutor,” said retired Superior Court Judge Michael Donio. “He was an incredible person, incredible attorney, and especially an incredible father and friend,” Portella said.”He understood that seeking justice did not always mean pushing for a conviction or a plea bargain in every case,” Donio said. “He was tough, fair and even-handed in his position as prosecutor.” In an office known for being tight-lipped, Prosecutor Housel sometimes enjoyed focusing on what he couldn’t say. He once began the question-and-answer portion of a press conference with, “Now ask your questions that I probably won’t answer.” But he did use press conferences when they helped a case. His first, just two months after taking office. British visitor Lavern Ritch had been fatally stabbed in Margate on Aug. 12, 2007. While releasing no information on a suspect, he held a press conference the next day showing surveillance video of a man wanted for questioning. It wasn’t until the man’s murder trial in 2011 that it was revealed how it helped capture the suspect, who turned himself in. “It’s a great loss to the criminal defense bar and the legal community,” said Northfield defense attorney Steve Scheffler, who called Housel the “go-to guy” for other attorneys on complex legal issues. “It was always a pleasure to work along side him as co-counsel in matters, and I personally benefited from his insight and legal abilities,” he said. “I had the privilege of knowing Ted as a mentor, colleague and boss,” said acting Atlantic County Prosecutor Diane Ruberton. “His knowledge of the rule of law was both broad and incisive. He was a skilled advocate and talented litigator in the courtroom.” Housel was proudly multi-lingual, and used his knowledge of Russian when he met with the family of a Russian summer worker who was killed Sept. 23, 2010. He had enlisted one of his daughters to help communicate with a victim’s family earlier that year. Martin Caballero was killed after he was carjacked from the Trump Taj Mahal. Victoria Housel’s fluency in Spanish helped put the family at ease, and even ended with a hug between the victim’s widow and the then-prosecutor’s daughter, the proud father boasted at the time. “Although he experienced many legal victories and much professional success, his greatest source of pride was his wife, Denise, and his four beautiful daughters,” Ruberton said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with them at this difficult time.” “The girls — all of his girls including his wife — were the gem of his existence,” Portella said. “I have hundreds of (Ted stories) that make me smile and make me realize what true friendship is.”

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