MANY GETMANS IN LAW, MEDICINE
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Getmans and Otsego County go back a long way, in law and medicine, too.
“In the Laurens cemetery, there are a lot of Getmans,” said Michael F. Getman, who will be sworn in Jan. 1, 2021, as the newest Otsego County judge.
Norman Getman, a cousin of Damon Getman, the incoming judge’s grandfather, was county coroner during the notorious Eva Coo case. She was found guilty of hitting Harry “Gimpy” Wright with a mallet, then running him over, and was executed at 1935 at Sing Sing.
Before the Dollar General strip mall was built at the corner of Chestnut and Church streets, Drs. Albert and Norman Getman’s medical offices were there.
As if making the law-medicine affiliation official, Michael Getman’s mother Maggie and father Frank were in Albany – she studying nursing; he in law school – when their courtship developed.
Even in the new judge’s generation, his brother Frank Jr. received a law degree from Boston College, (although he eventually went into business and is now president/CEO of Great Bay Renewables in Portsmouth, N.H.), and sister Margaret Bagnardi with a doctorate in nursing, taught James Madison University. His other brother, William, is a pediatrician in Austin, Texas.
And Michael F. Getman himself, over his 30-year practice, chaired the Fox Hospital board of trustees during successful merger negotiations with Bassett Healthcare Network. “It was the best thing for the entire county, not just Oneonta,” he said, saying it is
still a work in progress.
He now chairs the board of the Fox Hospital Foundation – it was founded by Oneonta Ford’s Sid Levine, Oneonta Yankees’ partner with Sam Nader and a hero of Getman’s – and as such served on the Friends of Bassett board.
The GOP County Committee, meeting Sunday, Aug. 16, at The Otesaga, chose Getman from a field of six Republican lawyers to succeed County Judge Brian D. Burns, who will move up to state Supreme Court judge at year’s end.
“All the discussion revolved around the qualifications of, wow, six very good candidates,” said county Republican Chairman Vince Casale. The goal was to identify “the most qualified.”
After the first two ballots, the candidate with the lowest tally dropped out. On the third ballot, Getman heard “34” and knew he had the votes.
In an interview in the Dietz Street office his father, future City Judge Frank W. Getman, opened 1961, the new judge, who in addition to private practice has been an assistant D.A. since 1998, and city prosecutor, couldn’t estimate how many cases he’s tried over the years.
However, he pointed out Oneonta’s town and city courts – his bailiwick – are the most active in the county, and since the former computerized in 2012, he’s prosecuted 3,100 cases. “And that’s just city court,” he said.
Michael F. Getman was born on Nov. 23, 1957, and was raised on Elm Street with his two brothers and a sister. “It seemed everybody lived on Elm Street,” he said, recalling how he’d walk to school; along the way, friend after friend would come out of their houses and join him en route.
At Oneonta High School, he lettered in three sports, football, basketball and baseball, then went on to Colgate University – his dad’s alma mater – where he was a tight end on the football team.
“Two of my closest friends, I played football with them,” he recalled. One, John Marzo, was Buffalo Bills medical director. Another, Angelo Collisomo, was director of sports medicine at the University of Cincinnati.
Graduating in 1979, he spent two years coaching and teaching before reaching a crossroads. He took his LSATs, and was admitted to Nova University Law School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he realized, “I really like the grind, I really liked it.”
He realized Colgate had prepared him to drill deep into his studies.
Law degree in hand, he spent two years as a public defender. The high point: meeting his future wife, Ellyn. The couple has three children: Sean, 26, “an aspiring baseball coach” at SUNY Cortland; Ceili (pronounced Kaylee), who teaches environmentally sustainability in Boston public schools; and Mary Margaret, 20, a student at Western New England College in Springfield, Mass.
He then moved to Ellyn’s native Massachusetts, where he joined the Department of Corrections’ Legal Department, defending the commonwealth in civil suits brought by inmates, before returning home in 1991 in going into practice with his father.
He practiced general law, but in 1998 began prosecuting as well, rising to chief assistant district attorney, and serving at city prosecutor, handling cases in Oneonta’s city and town courts, “the busiest in the county.” He praised District Attorney John Muehl, his boss since 2006, for “his work ethic and dedication to the job.”
Muehl returned the compliment, calling Getman “honest, hardworking,” who “treat people with a great deal of respect.”
Of the six lawyers seeking the judgeship, Getman was “the only person who was up to the job,” said the D.A., “regularly appearing in the courts where he will have jurisdiction.”
He’s prosecuted so many cases, Getman said, it will present a shortterm challenge, since many of the cases he’s been involved in will be moving up to county court.
Until those cases move through the system, the new judge said, he expects the other county judge, John Lambert of Cooperstown, will handle most criminal cases, while Getman will focus on Family and Surrogate courts.
If he knows a lot about current criminal cases, he knows a lot about his hometown generally, naming Levine, Oneonta’s benefactress Jesse Dewar – he never met her, but serves on the Dewar Foundation board, and and recently retired state Supreme Court Judge Michael V. Coccoma of Cooperstown as people he most admires.
Here’s another example.
Tom Morgan and Erna Morgan McReynolds former home – that stone house on Clinton Street – used to belong to Norman Getman, and the new judge happened to know his relative had installed coils in the front walk to keep ice from accumulating during the winter.
When he mentioned it to Erna, she replied, “that must be the mystery switch by the front door.”