Lawrence A. Eleuteri, 80, of Cinnaminson, former Superior Court judge in Burlington County, died of heart failure Monday, Nov. 29, at the Samaritan Hospice inpatient unit at Virtua Memorial in Mount Holly.

After 26 years of handling commercial law and bankruptcy cases and a few years of listening to citizens' concerns as a township committeeman in Cinnaminson, Judge Eleuteri was appointed to Superior Court by Gov. Jim Florio in 1990. "Every lawyer - from the time they start practicing in their professional life - they think about becoming a judge," he told The Inquirer in 1991. "It's a good way of going out."

He served on civil and family court, and spent most of his time as family court's presiding judge before retiring in 2000.

Those who worked with him said he had been a perfect fit for the job. "He had the ability to analyze the facts and reduce them to a reasonable conclusion," said Warren Jones, a former law partner.

Family court is tough to oversee because of the sad nature of many of the cases, said Judge Eleuteri's wife, Karen, but he chose to stay there instead of rotating to another court. "He was a man of great conviction," she said. "He believed in doing the right thing to help families."

With his white hair, kind eyes, and gentle demeanor, it was no surprise when Judge Eleuteri dressed up as Santa Claus for a Christmas party for Burlington County's needy children. "The kids are so happy and fun," he told The Inquirer in 1998. "I love doing this."

Judge Eleuteri was born and raised in Bordentown and graduated from Bordentown High School in 1948.

He worked as an assistant superintendent at Beverly National Cemetery for four years before joining the Navy in 1952.

During the two years he served at the Lakehurst naval air station, Judge Eleuteri took night classes at Rider College. He then enrolled at the University of Notre Dame, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in accounting in 1958. A year after working at an accounting firm, he started taking classes at the Georgetown University Law Center.

In 1962, Judge Eleuteri received his law degree, married Gloria Bartolozzi, and settled in Cinnaminson. His wife died in 1982, and he married Karen Spering in 1988.

Judge Eleuteri clerked for Wells & Wells in Bordentown in the early '60s before becoming an associate at Dimon, Haines & Bunting in Mount Holly, where he later became a partner.

As a partner in Dimon & Eleuteri, which then became Eleuteri, Wilkins & Jones, he was someone younger partners and associates sought for advice. "He would say, 'Just tell me the facts,' " Jones recalled. Judge Eleuteri would listen intently and take his time offering his opinion. "He was very wise."

Judge Eleuteri was elected to the Cinnaminson Township Committee in 1987 and served as mayor in 1990.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by sons Lawrence Jr. and Robert Eleuteri and Jacob Spering; daughter Gloria Eleuteri Ruscitti; stepdaughter Tina Spering-Gindville; and seven grandchildren.

Calling hours will be from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 5, at St. Charles Borromeo Church, 2500 Branch Pike, Cinnaminson, where a Funeral Mass will be said at 11 a.m. Monday, Dec. 6. Entombment will be at St. Mary's Mausoleum, Trenton.