Ehsan Chowdhry on working collaboratively and changing perceptions
Published in 2020 New Jersey Super Lawyers magazine on March 17, 2020
Criminal defense attorney Ehsan Chowdhry of E F Chowdhry Law Practice has a thing for proving doubters wrong.
Like when his high school friends teased him about his lousy billiards game. “I had my dad get me a pool table and I literally practiced for five, six hours a day,” Chowdhry remembers. “I made it a point to really make them eat their words.”
Before private practice, Chowdhry learned the ropes at various county prosecutors’ offices throughout New Jersey, including a year at the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, followed by nine years as an assistant prosecutor in the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office. His competitive spirit helped him thrive in both places.
“If you’re a physician and you diagnose somebody with cancer or a cold, there aren’t three other doctors yelling at you, ‘Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong,’” he says. “But I tell anybody, ‘You want to see the most adversarial process in the United States? Walk into any state criminal courtroom.’ As a prosecutor, you’re fighting with defense attorneys and the judge has to sort it out, the police are involved, there’s a victim, there’s bureaucracy. It’s just an amazing amalgamation of everything onto one page.”
In Ocean County, he worked the juvenile, grand jury, trial team and Megan’s Law units. The experience presented opportunities to get into the weeds on a plethora of legal avenues—often, he notes, pushing criminal cases further than local law enforcement was able.
Like an armed robbery underneath the Jersey Shore boardwalk. “We took our own investigator and kept working on the case over and over, going to the boardwalk, taking more pictures, re-investigating, to help bring more evidence,” he says. “[The jury] ultimately convicted the perpetrator [and sentenced him to] 17 years in prison.”
Even in cases with details “difficult to stomach,” Chowdhry was drawn to the collaboration. In 2011, a New Year’s Eve party at a VFW hall almost turned deadly after a man slashed a woman’s throat just before the ball dropped. The woman survived, and Chowdhry’s team worked with police and forensic labs while simultaneously working with the victim’s family.
“We were working together as one collective team,” Chowdhry says. “It was really touching. She almost died, and I was able to help bring some justice for her with the help of other people.”
It was the sort of formative case that Chowdhry took with him when he opened his firm in 2017. “As a defense attorney, you’re playing psychologist, counselor, religious advocate,” he says. “It’s a mix of everything. It’s rewarding too, because you wield a great deal of power to help somebody in their darkest hour.”
When Chowdhry, the son of Indian and Pakistani immigrants, first walked into the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, he was the only minority among some 45 attorneys. Today he’s a regular volunteer and speaker at mosques, schools and community events geared toward ethnic inclusion, education and elimination of hate crimes. He established the Amjad F. Chowdhry Memorial Award (named for his late father), a financial scholarship for minority law students.
In 2017, newly elected Gov. Philip Murphy tapped Chowdhry to be one of nine co-chairs on his Law & Justice Transition Team. In that role, Chowdhry worked for months to come up with policies and ideas that would help develop and implement the governor’s mission of what the criminal law and related policies should be.
“It was a tremendous honor for me, as I was likely one of the first Muslims to ever co-chair a governor’s transition team and to be working alongside such influential, intelligent and key players in our state,” he says. “I took it as a welcome and wanted challenge. The criminal laws are in place to protect the populace, no matter where you are from. To be Muslim, South Asian and the son of immigrants, this was an opportunity to help bring my knowledge and experience to help supplement it with others’ input for an overall improvement in our criminal justice system.”