2017-05-10 / Local News

Marlton lawyer becomes Burlington County’s top crime fighter

MEET SCOTT COFFINA…
By JAYNE JACOVA FELD Voice staff

FAMILY: Wife Kim; boys Alex, 11, Ethan, 9, and Dylan, 6

SYNAGOGUE: Cong. M’kor Shalom

FAVORITE PRESIDENT: Ronald Reagan

FAVORITE SPORTS TEAM: New York Yankees

FAVORITE JEWISH FOOD: Bagels and Lox

BEACH READING: Books on presidents, politics and U.S. history

Since childhood, Scott Coffina has been drawn to law and politics.

At nine, he warned his parents it would be a big mistake to vote for Washington outsider Jimmy Carter over Gerald Ford, the sitting president.

In seventh grade, he pulled an all-nighter watching the returns leading to the election of his idol Ronald Reagan.

But it is a picture of Coffina with Reagan that encapsulates this passion. A 20-year-old White House intern at the time, his supervisors arranged a “chance” meeting in the Old Executive Office Building for the quick photo op. A year later, as staff assistant in the White House Office of Political Affairs, he caught the president’s eye when Reagan was coming off his helicopter after vigorous campaigning for his then vice president George H.W. Bush, holding a sign proclaiming: “Thank you President Reagan. Will you be my grandpa?” Reagan stopped on his way into the White House and gave him a big “Yes.”

“People look at that picture of me and Reagan and call it my Bar Mitzvah picture,” said Coffina, who in April became Burlington County’s top prosecutor after serving as senior deputy chief counsel to Gov. Chris Christie since August 2015. Prior to that, he was in private practice as a partner with the Philadelphia law firm Drinker Biddle.

For the Marlton resident, whose impressive career has hop-scotched between the private and public sectors—including a stint as a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s office—the appointment is an opportunity to use skills garnered in both words to fight crime and improve lives. Heading a department comprised of 31 prosecutors, 40 detectives, and a total staff of 130, he will oversee multiple approaches to dealing with drug-related issues and a recent spike in the county’s homicide rate.

A graduate of Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Coffina replaced Prosecutor Robert D. Bernardi, who held the job since 1999.

His own career was launched in the Reagan White House, where a coveted internship in the Office of Political Affairs turned into a real job before his senior year at Cornell. Coffina, who grew up in Hazleton, PA, recalls relishing the supporting role he played helping to elect Republicans to office as Reagan’s presidency ended. “I was like a kid in a candy store because I was so young to have that experience,” he recalled.

After law school, Coffina worked in private practice in Washington before returning to Philadelphia and becoming an assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Philadelphia. In this role, he encountered the resume of his future wife Kim (Maltz), who was applying for a summer internship.

Even before he met her, Coffina was intrigued, noting that his future wife’s career trajectory working for Democratic politicians, including Gov. Jim Florio, and as a lobbyist, mirrored his own—albeit on the opposite side of the political fence.

Although he was at first disappointed that Kim turned down the job, this turned out to be a good thing as the two lawyers started to date. Their wedding in November 2000 dovetailed with the presidential election in which George W. Bush, whom he supported and later worked for as Associate Counsel to the President, beat out Vice President Al Gore in the closest race in history, one that hinged on a recount of Florida ballots.

“Our wedding video is full of references to ‘Carville and Matalin,’ and also to the recount that was going on at that time,” he said, referring to the famous political power couple James Carville, a Democratic operative, and his wife Mary Matalin, a Republican political strategist.

Coffina said his wife’s activism—she chairs M’kor Shalom’s Social Action Committee and spearheaded the synagogue’s partnership with the Neighborhood House in Camden to create an urban garden— has been a tremendous inspiration on his world outlook.

“What I do is public service but the impact she has had on that community is enormous and so tangible,” said Coffina, who plays on M’kor’s softball team. 

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