Toms River Regional Schools Hall of Fame

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Robert A. Gasser

On June 15, 1972, the Dover Township Committee was congratulated by the Observer-Courier newspaper for appointing Robert A. Gasser as the township's first public defender:

"Without a doubt, the Committee would have been hard pressed to find a man better qualified to assume the duties of the defender of indigents' rights. Gasser, who was sworn into office yesterday by Township Clerk L. Manuel Hirshblond, brings to the Office of Public Defender a wealth of experience gleaned when he was appointed in 1967 as the First Assistant Public Defender in the county office where he proved his ability to defend the financially deprived individual accused of crimes ranging from petty theft up to the then capital crime of murder."

But Gasser really began his career in public service as early as the four years (1951-1955) he attended Toms River High School. He was a 4-year member of Student Council and President of the Council during his senior year. From 1955 to 1959, Gasser attended Rutgers University, graduating with a B.A. in English. He entered Columbia University School of Law only to take leave a year later when he became the recipient of a Rotary International Foundation Fellowship to attend Hong Kong university to pursue Asian Studies. Returning to Columbia in 1961, Gasser graduated in 1963 with an L.L.B. In 1964, Gasser was admitted to the Bar with licenses to practice law in the New Jersey and Federal Courts.

Specializing in governmental law and criminal law, Gasser joined and soon became a partner in the law firm of Citta, Gasser, Carluccio and Holzapfel. During his ten years with the firm, Gasser also became an Adjunct/Associate Professor at Ocean County College and was selected as a candidate for office several times, running in 1968 for U.S. Congress from the 6th Congressional District and, in 1971, as a candidate for the New Jersey Assembly. He left the law firm to establish a private law practice, when he was elected to the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders in 1974. He was re-elected in 1976.

Over the years, Gasser was prominent in various community and political projects, including serving as Director of Human Resources for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, Hearing Officer for the Ocean County Department of Human Resources, as an ArbitratorIMediator for the Public Employees Retirement Commission, and a Public Defender in Surf City. From 1975 to 1978, he was elected Chairman of the Ocean County Democratic Party, sewing in 1976 as an elected delegate to the Democratic National Convention. His community service also included four years (1963-1969) with the U.S. ArmyINew Jersey National Guard, from which he was honorably discharged.

Gasser has always been very generous in giving his time and energy to humanitarian causes, which resulted in being recognized in 1970 with the Distinguished Service Award from the New Jersey Jaycees for service as President of Big Brothers of Ocean County, in 1978, with the First Annual Hispanic Association Award for service to the Hispanic Community of Ocean County, in 1980, with the Ocean County Mental Health Association Award for service to the mental health needs of the citizens of Ocean County and, in 1986, with the Women's Commission Award for contributions to women's issues in Ocean County.

Three of the above awards were also categorized as Man of the Year Awards. In 2002, Gasser was named Citizen of the Year by the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Council of Ocean County for his work in implementing the Ocean County Drug Court Program.

There is no doubt that one of the most personally satisfying of Gasser's achievements has been the founding of the Ocean County Drug Court and its continuing success. The goal of the program is to keep addicted people who have committed nonviolent crimes out of jail by giving them a chance to break the cycle of drug abuse. Unlike some plea bargains in which a person can avoid jail time by admitting to a lesser charge, Gasser insisted that the violators plead guilty to the highest charge. That way, if they fail to complete the program, they will find themselves in jail. Every Monday, those enrolled in the program attend Drug Court where they must answer questions on their success the previous week. There are strict requirements, depending on the various time lines the participants are on, which range from the number of times they have to call in each week, be drug tested, find a job, see probation, attend NA or AA meetings, etc. As of November, 2006, when Gasser retired from the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office, there were 175 participants in Drug Court and 50 graduates. Graduation from Drug Court is an emotional experience, filled with joy and pride experienced not only by the graduates but prosecutors and judges as well. The statistics record that 60% successfully complete the program with only 40% going to prison. Even the ones who must serve time are often turned around by the time they finish their sentence. The recidivism rate is only 14%.

By 2005, every county in New Jersey was required to have drug courts (fully funded by the state). As a testimony to Gasser's success, he had no sooner retired and moved to New Hampshire when he was asked to coordinate the creation of drug courts in that state. He's still a busy man in whom Toms River takes great pride.

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