The Rochester legal community is mourning the sudden death of a colleague who used the example of her own struggles to encourage lawyers to seek help when they’re facing undue stress.
Mary Beth Feindt died of cardiac arrest early Monday morning, according to the Monroe County Bar association. She was 53 years old.
Feindt was well known and well liked in local legal circles. One of her qualities in particular always put people at ease.
“Her sense of humor. She was just funny,” said Kevin Ryan, executive director of the Monroe County Bar Association. “You could be in a small meeting and she would just get started and make everybody laugh.”
Feindt spoke openly about an incident that almost ended her career 20 years ago. While working for the district attorney’s office, she was charged with pocketing witness fees.
In an interview with WXXI News last summer, she said she later came to understand that this was an attempt at self-sabotage. Feindt was suffering from clinical depression and was working in a job she no longer wanted but because of the pressure on lawyers to be stoic, felt she could not ask for help.
“If my explosion of my career and life served any purpose, for me, at least, it removed the stigma in my mind,” she recalled. “I don’t care. I’ll talk about it. I’ll talk about it to anybody.”
At a bar association event last summer, Feindt was candid with her colleagues about how she got therapy, faced her demons, and re-established her career. Ryan said she was widely admired for her courage.
“She had the room in tears. People were coming up to her and writing to her afterwards about how important it was for them to hear her story because they had been in some of the places she was…so she really touched people.”
Lawyers often feel internal pressure to be perfect, Feindt told WXXI. Her personal journey, she said, taught her that was not possible. Whenver the opportunity presented itself, Feindt said she would reach out to colleagues who appeared to her to be struggling. “I think people feel they will be perceived as weak if they talk about these things,” she said. “I talk about it very openly in part, because when I blew up my life it was very public, so it wasn’t like it was a big secret to keep. Although most people don’t remember it, and that reinforces to me that when you think your world is huge and blowing up, people have no idea what’s going on.”
For 11 years, Feindt worked as a prosecutor focusing on domestic violence and child abuse cases. In 2015, she was recognized by the Monroe County Public Defender’s Office for her representation of adult indigent clients in Family Court. Until recently, she was manager of continuing legal education at the bar association.
In August, Feindt took on a new role as deputy courtroom clerk for U.S. District Court Judge Frank Geraci. She had been undergoing treatment for cancer at the time of her death.