The last time I talked to one of my favorite people was a few years ago.
He called to ask where I thought he should take a watch to be fixed. I referred him to a friend who owns a jewelry store and repairs watches.
Our conversation was colorful, to say the least, but that’s how it always was in the more than 40 years that Judge James S. Getty Sr. and I knew each other.
The positive influence he had on my life was immeasurable. He mentored me about life and the intricacies of one of the most complex and difficult venues someone in my profession can cover.
I was a courthouse reporter for more than 20 years, so I could tell you plenty of Judge Getty stories — some of them hilarious, others not so much.
They would be both professional and personal in nature because he had been a family friend for more than seven decades. He attended Potomac State College with Dad’s sister, my Aunt Penny, and often remarked about how beautiful she was (he was right). He always asked how she was doing, and he was grieved by her passing.
Judge was a good golfer and while still sitting in Circuit Court, he told me he probably could cut several strokes off his handicap if he ever was appointed to the Court of Special Appeals. This implied that he would have less work to do and more time to play golf.
After he was named to the appeals court, he said his handicap actually went up.
We laughed, had serious conversations and were in the same place at the same time when the people we most loved were on their deathbeds.
It was shortly before Christmas of 1995, and my mother was in the hospice at Memorial Hospital. Dad was there all day and much of the night, and I went there after work. Judge also was there because his wife “Betts” was in her last days.
Even though my mom’s funeral was held in the aftermath of a terrible ice storm, Judge came from Cumberland to be with us. When Betts passed, Dad and I went to her funeral in Cumberland.
It had been important to the three of us, to go through one of life’s worst ordeals in a place where we and a number of other people were in the same situation and able to provide comfort and support for each other.
When the hospital said it might discontinue hospice, Judge wrote to them and explained what it had meant to his family. I did the same (still have the letter), and so did Morton Peskin — “Sonny,” who was a great longtime friend of both Judge’s family and mine. The hospital decided to keep the hospice in operation.
I had a pair of old cowboy boots that Judge often ridiculed. They were beaten-up and scarred from being worn in the brush while rabbit hunting, and I wore them with a suit, white shirt and tie when I went to the court house.
Dad said Judge approached him and my mother, produced a wallet that looked like it had been made out of scraps salvaged from the Dead Sea scrolls, and asked them in all seriousness, “Now, tell me, which looks worse? This fine old wallet, or those horrible damned boots your son wears?”
I still have those boots, and if I could have gotten my feet into them I would have worn them to Judge’s funeral.
He died recently, and at age 90 wrote an opinion for the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, to which he was appointed in 1985 and supposedly retired from a few years later — while continuing to serve it. He just kept on going throughout all of his 96 years.
Judge regaled Dad and me with stories that I would love to repeat — but cannot, because some of the people are still alive.
He was filled with humanity and a keen sense of humor, and he could be mischievous — sometimes leaving a particular toilet seat up on purpose, or asking a tour guide at Monticello if Thomas Jefferson’s bedroom was where Sally Hemmings slept. Dad loved him, and I’ve been told the feeling was mutual.
We were in his courtroom during a case that involved a juvenile — proceedings from which reporters generally are excluded — when the defense lawyer (who was from out of town) objected to my presence.
Judge Getty told him, “Mr. Goldsworthy assures me that he is here to report on the court’s ruling as to whether the defendant is to be tried as an adult or a juvenile, and nothing else. I trust him absolutely.”
I stayed, and to this day, that is one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received.
Judge was the proverbial 400-pound canary, who sleeps wherever he damn well pleases.
If the Court of Special Appeals overturned him, he would “drop ink” (as he called it) on its members and admonish them for their mistakes. When one judge suggested he should be made to apologize, another said he didn’t think there was much chance of that.
The appeals court overturned him in a Fourth Amendment case when he ruled that police were justified in performing a warrantless search. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually upheld him, after which he wrote to the appeals court to offer his services in any future cases involving the Fourth Amendment.
Judge once handed me his written opinion in a case that involved a boiler.
To the best of my recollection, he said, “I disagree with this opinion. I believe that the law is wrong, but I had to make my ruling in accordance with the law. I am confident that the Court of Special Appeals will overturn it when it is reviewed and have advised counsel that his clients should appeal.
“When the court’s ruling that overturns my decision is filed, I will call you and give it to you so you can write it up,” he said.
That’s exactly what happened.
Judge’s determination to uphold the law was equaled, if not exceeded, by his determination to see that justice was done, even if his professional image might suffer in the process ... believing in the end that he would be vindicated — even if nobody was aware of that.
And he trusted me to be the one who conveyed this to the public. Some responsibilities you truly take to heart.
My affection for him was unbounded. Other than my father and my mother, I have never admired and respected anyone else more than I did Judge Getty.