On May 7, a piece of Glen Cove history died in the person of Judge Joseph L. Vetrone, a native son and former city judge, who served his hometown in that capacity for 29 years, from 1965 to 1994, stepping down only because of mandatory retirement. By all accounts, Judge Vetrone was a man of integrity, commitment and dignity, whether it was in the capacity of family man or adjudicator.
Widowed at a young age with three children under the age of 5, Judge Vetrone remarried in 1968, and his wife Theresia became mother to the two boys, Joseph and James, and one girl, Joyce. Son Jon soon joined the brood. Mrs. Vetrone was extremely proud of the respect her husband garnered in his professional life and found those attributes to be even more admirable in his role as husband, father, and in time, grandfather. "He was a true family man," she stated quietly. "Family always came first." Many happy summers were spent at Lake Bomoseen in Vermont, where the judge spent every minute he could with his children and five grandchildren, Nicole, Matthew, Sean, Jordan and Jenna.
At the city council meeting of May 13, Mayor Ralph V. Suozzi asked for a moment of silence to honor Judge Vetrone and upon the judge's passing, released this statement: "Judge Vetrone was a dedicated family man who served his country, and for 29 years, our community as its city court judge. I will always think of him as an ordinary guy who greeted you with a smile and a kind word. He is a man worthy of our honor and respect and someone who will surely be missed not only by his family, but by all who knew him."
The Hon. Richard J. McCord stated: "I worked under former Supervising Judge Joseph Vetrone when I was associate judge of Glen Cove from 1988 through 1994. Judge Vetrone always administered justice fairly and impartially, treating the litigants and the attorneys who appeared before him with dignity. As a result, litigants left his courtroom feeling that they had received their promised "day in court" and had been treated fairly by the court system. Under his tutelage, I learned how to administer justice fairly and impartially and treat all litigants who appear before the bench as equals, providing them with an opportunity for a full and fair hearing of all of the issues presented by their cases. Judge Vetrone will be sorely missed by the citizens of Glen Cove, the members of the Bar who regularly appeared before him and the employees of the Glen Cove City Court for whom he always had a kind word. I was blessed and privileged to have learned by his example how to be a jurist."
Michael Montesano, attorney and acting judge in the Village of Roslyn Harbor, spoke with admiration and respect for his longtime friend. "We had lunch as often as we could for as long as we could," he said. "I was honored to deliver the presentation of his portrait at the unveiling of the judges' portraits that hang in Glen Cove City Court." He spoke of appearing before Judge Vetrone and praised the judge's dedication to fair and accurate rulings. "He always listened to all the facts and was very free with his time." The judge took all aspects of a litigant's life into consideration, including family history and background, and gave everyone the benefit of the doubt and an opportunity to correct their errors, if he believed that would be beneficial to the person's future. "He was compassionate, but wouldn't hesitate to impose jail time if he deemed it necessary," Mr. Montesano said. A former Marine Drill Instructor, Judge Vetrone was nothing if not disciplined. "Anyone who appeared before him left knowing they had had their day in court and received a fair decision, even if they didn't agree."
Echoing Judge McCord, Mr. Montesano said that he, too, had learned much from Judge Vetrone, saying, "I cut my teeth in front of him." Judge Vetrone was always ready to help and teach a young attorney, never criticizing or chastising a mistake. The judge was equally patient with older members of the community who might be confused or otherwise ignorant of the law.
The judge had no personal agenda, no concern for advancing his own career and never used his position to seek favor, but exemplified "integrity beyond reproach," said Mr. Montesano. One disappointment, he added, was that his friend never had the opportunity to preside in the current court, after working from trailers in the mid-1980s as the court was being built.
Mr. Montesano also spoke of the devoted family man, who was active in civic and fraternal organizations and a lector at St. Patrick's Church.
Former mayor and City Court Judge Joseph Muldoon was also part of the "lunch whenever we could" friendship. He has known Judge Vetrone since the 1950s and their personal and professional lives entwined through the decades. He called the judge a quiet man, whose actions spoke for themselves. "There's so much to say," he remarked about his friend, but summed up a full and dynamic life with the words, "He was a great guy, a great person who made a difference to so many people." Again, the words integrity, compassion and family man entered the conversation. Judge Vetrone truly cared for his fellow man. "He might give someone jail time, rather than a lighter sentence," he said, should that person have needed a meal and a roof over his head on a cold winter night. "He had fiber and real grit, the kind of thing you don't see much of anymore. His death is a great loss to a lot of people."
Judge Vetrone was given a full military funeral, and Judge Muldoon said the ceremony gave all in attendance an opportunity to reflect in silence and reverence on the life of "a great guy, friend and colleague. He may be gone, but he left much behind that will help keep us going. My hope is that we can continue to spread the good he did...and share it with someone else."
Donations in Judge Joseph Vetrone's name may be made to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, TN 38105-1942.