Sharon Stern Gerstman, counsel to the Buffalo law firm Magavern Magavern Grimm, assumes office today, June 1, as 120th president of the 72,000-member New York State Bar Association.
Gerstman, who succeeds Claire P. Gutekunst of Yonkers, is the seventh woman and 12th Buffalo attorney to head the 141-year-old Association. Michael Miller of New York City (Law Firm of Michael Miller) is president-elect.
“My goal as president is to get all our members involved in making the world, the profession and the justice system better,” Gerstman said. “If you see a cause you agree with, it’s not enough to like it on Facebook, do something!”
She noted that New York attorneys have a long history of volunteering their legal services to assist the poor and other vulnerable individuals. Collectively, the State Bar’s advocacy has helped bring about major legal reforms—notably, in early April 2017, enactment of New York State laws to combat wrongful convictions, raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18, seal criminal records in some circumstances and improve the provision of indigent criminal defense.
Under Gerstman’s leadership, the Association will examine what policies and laws have contributed to a large prison population, which is disproportionately minority—as well as the impact on lives of individuals and on the social fabric of the nation.
In addition to looking at sentencing and bail guidelines, hiring of private corporations to operate the prisons and other issues, the Association will focus on what Gerstman calls “prison prevention.” This requires evaluating the impact of zero-tolerance policies in schools and the increased presence of uniformed police officers in schools, she said.
“We’ve seen pictures of kids escorted from school in handcuffs and taken directly to police headquarters, sometimes for minor disciplinary problems. There has to be better way to handle these kids,” she said. “Students who are suspended or expelled are at higher risk of dropping out of school, committing crimes and ending up in jail or prison later in life. As a nation, we need to put a brake on this school-to-prison pipeline.”
Gerstman, who spent the past year visiting many county bar associations across New York, is committed to enhancing the ties between local bars and the New York State Bar Association. “We don’t look at local bars as competition. Instead, we recognize that state and local bar associations provide different and complementary services to members,” she said.
Personal and Professional Background
A longtime member of the State Bar Association, Gerstman previously served as president-elect, treasurer and vice-president for the Eighth Judicial District on the Executive Committee. She is a member of the House of Delegates, Finance Committee, Dispute Resolution Section, and Torts, Insurance and Compensation Law Section.
Gerstman is past chair of the Committee on Civil Practice Law and Rules and the Special Committee on Lawyer Advertising and Referral Service Regulation. She also co-chaired the Task Force on E-Filing, the Special Committee on Lawyer Advertising and the Special Committee on Strategic Planning. She is a Life Fellow of The Bar Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the State Bar, and was a board member from 2008 to 2016.
She is active in the American Bar Association, where she has been a member of the House of Delegates since 1990. She has served on its Board of Governors and the councils of two sections and as a member of multiple committees.
At Magavern Magavern Grimm in Buffalo, Gerstman concentrates her practice in mediation and arbitration and appellate practice. She joined the firm in December 2010. She previously spent nearly 30 years as a court attorney/referee and principal law clerk with the New York Supreme Court in the Eighth Judicial District. She taught New York Practice at the University at Buffalo Law School for 30 years.
A native of Brooklyn, Gerstman was raised in New Jersey. She graduated from Brown University with a degree in philosophy. She later earned a J.D. from University of Pittsburgh School of Law and a LL.M. from Yale Law School.
She and her husband, Daniel Gerstman, live in Buffalo. Their son, Ari, and his wife, Valerie Baron, and daughter reside in Washington, D. C.
Gerstman will serve a one-year term as State Bar president. Also on June 1, Miller becomes president-elect, Sherry Levin Wallach of Cross River takes office as secretary and Scott Karson of Melville (Lamb & Barnosky) begins a second term as treasurer. Miller will succeed Gerstman as president on June 1, 2018.
The 72,000-member New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. It was founded in 1876.
Contact: Lise Bang-Jensen
Director, Media Services