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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

New Jersey Black History Month, Unsung Hero Larry DeCosta, Part II

Unsung hero Larry DeCosta was the quintessential legal champion of the poor without seeking publicity for his remarkable achievements. His soft-spoken and humble manner belied his toughness; he was strong, silent, and self-contained. His deep humility and southern gentility would frequently catch his legal adversaries off guard when they came up against Mr. DeCosta in a hotly contested matter.

Without missing a beat or changing his tone, he would intellectually eviscerate the legal arguments of his unsuspecting adversary attorneys. There sometimes is a misconception within part of the general public that Legal Services attorneys may not be as legally intellectually astute as higher paid corporate attorneys in private practice. In reality, Legal Services attorneys are among the sharpest and most intellectually complex attorneys I have ever met, and Mr. DeCosta was outstanding in his ability to not only fashion complex and winning legal arguments but also in his dedication to take on highly time-consuming cases, while though not frivolous, had slim chances of prevailing on the behalf of the poor and indigent plaintiffs. Larry DeCosta was fearless if he believed the cause was right.

The Life of this Remarkable Man

Larry DeCosta was born October 24, 1950 in Hampton, South Carolina to Thomas and Sue DeCosta. In 1980, he was married to Marian Elizabeth Johnson, which marriage produced two daughters. This family enjoyed many years of companionship and love, which now seem all too short.

Larry DeCosta joined the Huspah Baptist Church, Hampton, S.C. at an early age. He subsequently joined Tabernacle Baptist Church under the pastorate of Rev. Dr. Richard W. Jones. His devotion and diligent service to others caught the attention of the pastor, who adopted him as his "earthly"  son and the two families became one. Mr. DeCosta served as deacon, teacher and director of many in-house and community outreach programs and was subsequently made director of education.

Mr. DeCosta was educated in the public schools of Hampton, South Carolina and then matriculated at South Carolina State College, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree.

Upon graduation, he entered Military Service, the United States Marine Corps, and supervised a 240-man U.S. Military and Korean National Security Force. Mr. DeCosta was patriotic and found satisfaction in his service to the US Military. He told me that surprisingly, he personally experienced no racism in his ability to be promoted while serving in the Military and that in his experience, the promotions were merit-based, that this was in stark contrast to some of his experiences in work outside of his Military Service. He was released from Military Service and secured employment as a teacher with Prince George's County Board of Education. Larry DeCosta furthered his education by attending the University of South Carolina Law Center and received a Juris Doctorate degree.

Larry DeCosta utilized his skills in law as a military officer in the Judge Advocate General Corps. He served in the capacity of a civilian attorney for the U.S. Army as a legal advisor in the Administrative Law Division.

Mr. DeCosta’s desire to serve others led him into private law practice and then to obtain employment with Camden Regional Legal Services, which in many ways provided the environment to help him fulfill what he believed to be his life’s mission. He believed his goal in life was to follow the precepts of Proverbs 31:8, 9 (NIV), “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

There was no better place for Mr. DeCosta to accomplish his goal of speaking up and defending the rights of those who are destitute, poor and needy, than in being the legal advocate for the poor and indigents who came to him for legal help. As the executive Director of Camden Regional Legal Services, he set the tone for dedication and service to others in the legal profession.

I was fortunate to have Mr. DeCosta as my lawyering mentor at Camden Regional Legal Services starting when I was a senior in Rutgers School of Law. My first case under his tutelage was representing an indigent man who slept in culvert, had mental incapacities, and needed to receive disability payments. Mr. DeCosta gave the same care to uneducated indigents as he did to sophisticated, educated, terminated workers who sought his help in discrimination matters.

Mr. DeCosta was later made the Executive Director for the entire South Jersey Legal Services. Ultimately for health reasons, Mr. DeCosta retired as Executive Director for South Jersey Legal Services and became deceased on May 14, 2014.

Many honors have been bestowed upon Larry DeCosta including US Military Commendations, South Carolina and New Jersey Bar Associations Awards, and other secular awards. However, none of these gives full recognition to the man who devoted his entire life to those who lack the capacity to help themselves, and he willingly steadfastly did so without fanfare.

If you are being subjected to unlawful workplace discrimination, contact Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law today for a free consultation. New Jersey employment attorney, Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law serves clients throughout the state, including Bergen, Middlesex, Essex, Hudson, Monmouth, Ocean, Union, Camden, Passaic, and Morris Counties with locations in Southern, Central, Western and Northern NJ to meet with clients.



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