The Good Samaritan
Tom Neuberger takes Isaiah’s mandate seriously
Published in 2007 Pennsylvania Super Lawyers magazine
on May 25, 2007
Updated on April 22, 2011
The Neuberger Firm in downtown Wilmington is small. Tom Neuberger, his son Steve, and two associates, Cheryl Hertzog and Rae Ann Warner, work from pleasant third-floor offices in a four-story office building in a city that’s a haven for corporate giants.
But there’s nothing little about the cases they handle. At 59, Neuberger has taken on the Pentagon, the White House, the Catholic Church, DuPont, Delaware’s governor, the NCAA, the Cincinnati Reds and the INS. During his career, he has had his phone tapped, his computers hacked and his reputation attacked. Several years ago an opponent even went public with the fact that Neuberger once had a brain tumor.
Neuberger doesn’t back down. If he’s known for anything, it’s being relentless. And for winning. For that, he thanks God.
Neuberger found his faith while studying for the bar. “What I now know is the Holy Spirit came over me in my apartment and took away all my cares and concerns,” he says. “I stopped studying and started singing, something I never did.”
Later, he attended a prayer meeting and realized, “I’m just a pot on the shelf. God takes me off whenever he wishes and uses me in whatever way he wishes. The mandate from Isaiah to seek justice and correct oppression was always real to me. Today it is even more so through the story of the Good Samaritan—‘How can you not help these people?’”
An American flag sits next to his desk. Flown over Afghanistan, it was a gift from Lt. Col. Martha McSally, the Air Force’s highest-ranking female fighter pilot. Neuberger represented her in McSally v. Secretary of Defense, a suit filed in federal court in December 2001 after the military, in a bow to Saudi Arabian custom, ordered servicewomen stationed there to wear Muslim abayas (overgarments worn by Muslim women) when off base.
McSally, the first woman to fly in combat, thought the order was demeaning. She went looking for a lawyer.
“It was a religion issue and a women’s rights issue—and contrary to the command structure,” says Neuberger, who was brought into the case by the Rutherford Institute, a Virginia-based civil liberties advocacy organization he’s worked with for years. “It was ridiculous.”
Neuberger negotiated with the Pentagon to revise its dress policy, and it was eventually changed from “mandatory” to “strongly encouraged.” But that wasn’t enough for his client. “Martha went to Capitol Hill,” he says. She lobbied Congress to pass an amendment prohibiting the Department of Defense from requiring, or even formally urging, servicewomen in Saudi Arabia to wear the abaya. The Senate vote was a resounding 93-0 in favor of the amendment.
Neuberger has become an old hand at representing whistleblowers, particularly against the government.
“His reputation is so outstanding that many high-ranking government officials cringe at the thought of being deposed by him, much less going to trial and facing him again while on the stand,” says retired Delaware State Police Capt. Gregory A. Warren, who hired Neuberger when Gov. Ruth Ann Minner refused to promote him after he held an off-duty political fundraiser for one of her opponents during the 2000 gubernatorial election. Neuberger sued, alleging First Amendment political retaliation. The case was settled the morning the governor was to be deposed.
Another whistleblowing state trooper, Sgt. Chris Foraker, now retired, calls Neuberger “a courtroom warrior, a godly man.” Foraker turned to Neuberger after a state police commander transferred him from his job supervising the police firing range—in possible retaliation for reprimanding a buddy of the commander. Foraker knew he had the right attorney when he saw the Bible on Neuberger’s desk. Deeply religious, Foraker believes God led him to “an attorney as passionate about defending me in the courtroom as I am about training my students to survive deadly encounters.”
Steve Neuberger describes Foraker as having “so much integrity that it got him into a world of trouble with his superiors.” In 2003, a federal jury ordered the commander to pay more than $100,000 in damages for improperly transferring a subordinate in an act of revenge. The commander still didn’t learn his lesson and continued to harass Foraker, so Foraker and two other troopers spoke out about the toxic environmental conditions and faulty equipment at the now-closed firing range, which they claim poisoned thousands of law enforcement officers. The Neubergers won a jury verdict in that case, too, of nearly $2 million, now under appeal.
“Tom is the best appellate lawyer I know,” says John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute. “He’s a great advocate—he’ll fight the devil for you. And his son’s becoming just like him. People want lawyers who will go to the end of the world for them, and the Neubergers do that.
“I know thousands of lawyers—and Tom’s my lawyer.”
Neuberger is training an eager and willing Steve to follow in his footsteps. They make a formidable pair in court—Tom, the shorter at 6 feet 4 inches, and Steve topping him by a couple of inches.
Working summers at the Rutherford Institute convinced Steve he wanted to study law. He graduated from Temple Law School, and joined the practice four years ago. “He’s my message to the future,” Tom Neuberger says. “Someday I’ll be carrying his bag and doing research for him.”
Neuberger has lived in Wilmington all his life. His old friend, Bob Mulrooney, who played basketball with him at Salesianum School, says, “With Tom, what you see is what you get. He’s always been intense, always been caring. He was a really good student. I never saw anyone who could just sit down and plot out a course the way he can.”
Neuberger graduated magna cum laude from St. Joseph’s College, earned a master’s degree at the University of Delaware and his law degree from Georgetown University. He has known his wife, Judy, since the fifth grade, and she works part-time as the office bookkeeper. “She keeps us straight and honest,” he says.
Since opening his own firm in 1981, he has tried cases in federal courts throughout the country. An expert in First and 14th Amendment cases, he has testified before congressional committees. And he once nearly became a member of Congress himself.
He ran in 1986 as the Republican candidate for Delaware’s single House seat, but lost to Democrat Tom Carper, now a U.S. senator. Neuberger says, “We ran a clean campaign on the issues, no dirty tricks, against a popular incumbent. The people always need a choice, and I am proud to have had the honor at a time when President Reagan was restoring the nation’s self-esteem.” He recalls that Steve sent some jelly beans with him once when he visited the president at the White House. “The Secret Service would have none of that, but the president told me to thank Steve for his thoughtfulness … a nice memory.”
Whether in politics or in law, Neuberger has made a career out of following his convictions, wherever they take him. “I am one of those lawyers who has chosen not to be rich but to sleep at night with a clear conscience,” he says. “I am proud to be one of the little guys.”