Mary Dee Martoche
North Dakota’s Loss, Buffalo’s Gain

by Joseph H. RADDER

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Mary Dee Martoche, court attorney-referee in the Erie County Surrogate's Court, was born and raised in Bismarck, North Dakota, but "home is where the heart is," and her heart is in Buffalo, New York. She explained it this way:

"In 1980 my husband, Sal (The Honorable Salvatore Martoche, Associate Justice of the New York State Supreme Court) was appointed Assistant Secretary of Labor by President Ronald Reagan. This meant we would spend the next four years living in a north Virginia suburb of Washington. I thought we would love it, and that the D.C. area would be home for the rest of our lives, but after a few years I said to Sal, 'we want to go home.'" Home, of course, was Buffalo, not North Dakota.

Buffalo is fortunate that she felt that way, and that her husband agreed. Not only is she an important cog in the Erie County court system, she is a valuable community leader. For example, she is a past chair of the board of directors of the Greater Buffalo Chapter of the American Red Cross, chairs its Clement Trustees, and serves on various national Red Cross committees.

Mary Dee Martoche has extensive courtroom experience. As an attorney in private practice, she tried numerous cases throughout western New York. While in Washington, she was a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice after working as an attorney for the Department of the Interior.

Prior to her appointment in Surrogate's Court, she was an attorney for the Erie County Family Court, dealing with children and families in crisis. Since becoming court attorney-referee for Erie County Surrogate's Court, her work has centered on working with and helping families to resolve disputes regarding estates, trusts, and guardianships.

"My professional life has changed considerably under our new Surrogate Judge Howe," she said. "I'm now more involved in supervision and management matters and have become involved in a number of initiatives .We have several initiatives going on in the court right now. For example, we're in the midst of a move from the first to the second floor of Erie County Hall. Judge Howe has asked Joe Schifflett and me to oversee the transfer to our new space. In addition to that, we're in the process of digitizing our records to minimize paper as much as possible." The Erie County Surrogate's Court has been designated as a pilot court for e-filing, hopefully a more efficient and expeditious way of filing papers of the court.

One needs only to look at the walls of Mrs. Martoche's office to know that she has a wonderful avocation as well. There are many awards related to her volunteerism, particularly for the American Red Cross. Prominent among these is the Clara Barton Award which she received in 2001 from the Greater Buffalo Chapter, honoring her as the volunteer of the year.
   
She is former chair of the Erie County Child Protection Board, a founder and former chair of the board of directors of St. Mary of Sorrows Montessori School, a founder and former president of the Women's TAP fund, and a founder of the Women's Group, a networking organization of professional women in Erie County. In addition she has been a member of several committees and continues to be active in the Bar Association of Erie County..

Mary Dee Benesh was born in 1945 in Bismarck, North Dakota. When she was 5, the family moved to Garrison, North Dakota, where she attended elementary school.

"One of my earliest memories takes me back to Garrison," she recalled. "When I was about 7 years old my parents took me to the dedication of the Garrison Dam. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was the major participant in the ceremony. I didn't get to meet him, but at one point he was standing only 15 feet away from us."

Later the family returned to Bismarck, where Mary Dee attended high school. She then earned a degree in English at the University of North Dakota.

In 1967 she was married to Salvatore R. Martoche, now associate justice of the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Department. "I was married and moved to Buffalo the same week," she remembered, smiling. She taught English in the Tonawanda and East Aurora public school districts before attending University of Buffalo Law School, where she earned her degree. She was admitted to the Bar in 1977.

"I started law school with two children and finished with three," she said. These children, now adults, are Amy, an attorney, Claire, who works in the hospitality industry, and Christopher who is a graduate student at Canisius College.

Since 1999, Martoche has been a lecturer at the State University of New York at Buffalo Law School where she teaches trial techniques. Yet she still finds time for needlework and to be a voracious reader

She's optimistic that Buffalo and Erie County will eventually solve their problems and realize the great potential we have here.

We asked for Ms. Martoche's opinion on the recent trend to commercialize the law profession. "I understand the logic for allowing attorneys to advertise," she said. "But I'm not sure that it has done much for the profession or for the public."

As we talked it became more and more evident that whether she's working professionally, as a volunteer in the community, or within her own family, Mary Dee Martoche's key motivation is helping others.

I trust that most of our readers will agree that we need more selfless people in the world. Mary Dee Martoche could teach a lot of us to live better lives in this regard.


Joseph H. Radder, a frequent contributor to Living Prime Time, is author of the book, Young Jesus, the Missing Years. For more information, phone 1-888-280-7715 or visit www.1stbooks.com

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