Attorney Neil J. Rowe has spent his career getting things in order for people, from helping those with mental health issues get needed treatment to teaching administration skills to college students.
He is now bringing his extensive organizational skills to the presidency of the Monroe County Bar Association, which he will assume July 1, although his official induction is tonight at the Hyatt Regency Rochester.
“I thought I had time to help a little more,” Rowe said. “I thought it was a good opportunity to bring my skills into the organization. Most people are strictly attorneys, whereas I have a little more organizational background.”
Rowe, who retired from state service two years ago, spent his entire 32-year career with the Mental Hygiene Legal Service, an auxiliary agency of the Appellate Division in the Fourth Department that provides legal services, advice and assistance to people receiving care or alleged to be in need of care at inpatient and community-based facilities for the mentally disabled.
Rowe plans to focus his one-year term on modernizing the association’s board of trustees with focused committees to enhance and revitalize activities while concentrating on membership offerings and community involvement.
He, outgoing President Steven V. Modica and MCBA Executive Director Mary Loewenguth began working on the board committees last year.
“My theme is that we’re kind of running on a 40-year-old model, back when everything was volunteer and we had a part-time director,” Rowe said. “We’re way too big for that, so I’ve been working with Steve over the last year, putting in board committees.”
Rowe said three board committees are being set up: A member-focused committee to make sure what the association is offering is what members want, a community-focused committee to look at its community programs and public education, and an audit committee which is part of a new requirement under the Not-For-Profit Revitalization Act.
Rowe said he, Modica and former presidents Diane Cecero and Connie Walker have also been working hard over the past few years to rebuild the organization’s relationship with the judiciary, part of which was realized in January with the inaugural robing ceremony.
“I think Steve was an excellent president,” Rowe said. “I really admire his communication skills. He’s a great communicator. He did a lot to foster relations with the membership and the judiciary.”
Modica began the robing ceremony to honor newly elected judges and those retiring, an event expected to continue annually. He is also grateful for the support and opportunity he had to participate in the production of a film on U.S. District Court Judge Michael A. Telesca, “Dedicated to Justice: Hon. Michael Telesca,” which premiered to a large crowd in April.
“I think it’s been a wonderful journey,” Modica said of his tenure as president. “I learned a lot. My belief in and admiration for our legal community and judiciary has been strengthened. I think I’m most grateful for the dialogue we have started about the health and well-being of judges and lawyers in the community.”
One of Modica’s signature initiatives has been establishing the Health & Well Being Task Force to analyze mental health issues affecting attorneys and offer recommendations, which were included in a report recently adopted by the board.
The effort also included a continuing legal education program on “Stress, Anxiety & Depression in the Legal Profession.”
“I’m proud to say that folks in crisis will have access to confidential mental health assessment services,” Modica said, noting $25,000 has already been raised through grants from the federal court system and the Foundation of the Monroe County Bar and fundraising efforts of motivated individual donors to cover analysis costs for those who cannot afford services. Modica said the task force did not want money to be an obstacle to getting help.
“I’m certainly grateful for all the support I received from my colleagues, members of the judiciary, from our board and staff and from my family,” he said.
Rowe, who has an undergraduate degree in psychology from Hamilton College in Oneida County, will continue Modica’s mental health initiatives, which will benefit from his lengthy experience with the Mental Hygiene Legal Service.
“When Steve started the mental health initiative, that tied into the stuff I was doing so we pretty much agreed that was going to be a two-year initiative and it would take that long to get that up and running,” Rowe said.
Modica said not to be fooled by Rowe’s quiet demeanor. He said he is extremely honest, hardworking and a very good listener, which he called an important presidential quality.
“He’s been a true partner in the past year as president-elect,” Modica said of Rowe. “He’s been deeply involved in just about everything the board’s been involved in. I have all the confidence in the world he’s going to do a terrific job.”
Rowe will be sworn in by former New York State Chief Judge Sol Wachtler, who will talk about his own mental health issues that led to his 1993 resignation from the bar and the state’s highest court and a prison term after he was convicted of threatening to kidnap the child of a woman who ended an affair with him.
Wachtler was re-instated to the bar in October 2007. An advocate for the mentally ill, he is also the author of “After the Madness: A Judge’s Own Prison Memoir” and “Blood Brothers,” a novel co-written with former Assistant U.S. Attorney David Gould who had also served as a law clerk to Wachtler.
A native of Watertown in Jefferson County, Rowe started out in Utica as one of the Mental Hygiene Law Service’s few staff attorneys. He then opened the Syracuse office and in 1988 was appointed deputy director, which brought him to the Fourth Department’s headquarters in Rochester. As deputy director, he said he was pretty much the lead person in the agency going to full-service in-house counsel.
Rowe still teaches administration and management courses at Keuka College, mentors at Empire State College and practices administrative law part time. He has also taught at The College at Brockport and St. John Fisher College.
Rowe, who was honored by the MCBA with its President’s Award for Professionalism in 2004, earned his law degree at Washington and Lee University School of Law. He also has a master’s degree in public administration from Syracuse University.
Rowe has been a member of the MCBA for at least 20 years and has served on its board in multiple capacities. He also serves on the board of the Volunteer Legal Services Project of Monroe County, is a member of the New York State Bar Association and has served on the Monroe County Bar Center for Education.
Rowe first became interested in the legal system at about the age of 10 when he expressed a desire to become a state trooper. He said he was doing well in school and his parents, Howard and Lucille Rowe, encouraged him to think about law school.
His parents also introduced him to their lawyer friends, including Francis Musselman, a friend of his mother’s from high school who died in 2013. Musselman was a partner at the New York City law firm of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley and McCoy LLP who founded its Washington, D.C., office.
Rowe’s father died a year ago, but his mother still lives in Watertown. When he is not working, Rowe, who lives in Webster, enjoys bicycling and swimming.
MCBA officer installation
Monroe County Bar Association officers being installed tonight along with President Neil J. Rowe are Mark J. Moretti, president-elect; Eileen E. Buholtz, treasurer; Mark D. Funk, secretary; and Steven V. Modica, immediate past president.
The event begins at 5:30 p.m. with an open bar and hors d’oeuvres at the Hyatt Regency Rochester with dinner at 6:30 p.m. Keynote speaker is former Chief Judge Sol Wachtler who will administer the oath of office to Rowe. Members of the board of trustees will also be sworn in.