Some judges have it in for DWI defense lawyer Peter O’Mara. “There are certain courts where it seems no matter what your client says, you have no chance of winning,” he says. Yet even those judges who find the clients he represents unsympathetic recognize his talent. One, the Hon. Gerald J. Eak of the Brick Township Municipal Court, even put it in the record.
“Mr. O’Mara, you know, each case I watch you in, and I’ve had the privilege to do that for the 11 years I’ve sat here, you have never ceased to amaze me with your knowledge of the law,” he said. “I mean, how many people would come in here and be that thorough? Believe me, it’s one in a million. My compliments to you.”
This type of thoroughness has made him not only one of the top DWI defense lawyers in the state, but one of its top amateur bicycle racers.
At 40 years old, an athletically trim 6 foot 5 inches, with a slight goatee, you get the feeling O’Mara could succeed in pretty much anything he put his mind to. The fact that he ended up in DWI defense as a solo practitioner was a matter of fate more than anything else.
When he graduated from Dickinson Law School, O’Mara landed a position with the Monmouth County prosecutor’s office. There, his frequent opponent was Francis X. Moore.
“He was a guru of DWI cases,” O’Mara says. “I had known him because I had grown up playing ice hockey with his son, and he knew me as a tough hockey player. I had several cases against him, and after the sixth or seventh case, he approached me and asked me if I wanted a job. I took the offer and went into private practice as his associate, and in the space of a year and a half, I had my hands on about 500 DWI files.” After a few years, O’Mara decided to hang out his own shingle.
It wasn’t the first time hockey helped shape his future. After seeing the Americans play the Russians in 1980—first in an Olympic preview at Madison Square Garden (where the Russians trounced the U.S. team) and then a few weeks later on TV as part of the Miracle on Ice of the 1980 Winter Olympics—O’Mara, then in junior high, set a goal for himself to one day play on the Olympic hockey team. He didn’t make it that far, although he was a standout defenseman on the Christian Brothers Academy championship hockey team in 1983 (“once a defenseman, always a defenseman,” he says with a laugh). And he did end up winning lots of medals. Just not in hockey.
“My dad suggested I make myself stronger for hockey by training on a bicycle,” he says. “So I got a road bike. I went out one day and came upon a group of racers who were riding, and tagged along. I eventually became good friends with them. One guy named Marshall Whitfield found out my name and where I lived. Unbeknownst to me, while I was in school, he went to my house, knocked on the door, met my mom and said, ‘You’ve got to buy this guy a racing bike. He’s very strong.’ So my folks bought me a racing bike. About three months after that, I wound up getting a silver medal at the state junior road race championship.”
During the past 22 years, O’Mara has won more than a dozen medals and trophies, including the New Jersey State Championships, the Garden State Cup and the Garden State Games. He is one of only 15 amateur racers in the state allowed to compete in professional races, which he does nearly every weekend during the season.
With a young and growing family—he and his wife, Ardis, have three children—O’Mara has become a maestro in budgeting his time. He works a long day, puts in miles on his bike, spends time with his wife and kids, and somewhere in all that, sleeps.
“The good thing about my practice, because I work for myself, I don’t see time sheets,” he says. “On a typical day, if I can get home by 6, have a quick bike ride, have dinner, do homework, put my kids to bed by 8 o’clock, I’ll be back on the computer from the time the kids go to bed to 11 o’clock or so. That’s when I find one of the most productive times for me to do trial prep or prepare briefs, because it’s quiet.
“I might work a 12-hour day, but it doesn’t feel like a 12-hour day. It’s more enjoyable.”
Like a walk—make that a ride—in the park.