Obituary: Patti Bednarik / Attorney was advocate for animal rights

May 21, 1957 - Oct. 26, 2013


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Patti Bednarik, a former assistant district attorney in Allegheny County, a devoted champion of animal welfare issues and a driving force behind animal law courses being added to most of the state's law school curricula, died Saturday at Family Hospice & Palliative Care in Mt. Lebanon from ovarian cancer. She was 56.

At the time of her death, Ms. Bednarik was director of character and fitness for the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners, a job in which she determined the suitability of candidates to the Pennsylvania Bar. When she accepted the Harrisburg-based position in 2010, she had to quit her job as an adjunct professor teaching animal law courses at Penn State Dickerson because she realized she would end up considering the bar applications of her former students, which would be a conflict of interest.

Her husband, Joe Bednarik, said she inspired many law students to continue her work in protecting the rights of animals.

"She was always modest about her accomplishments and to a certain extent I tried to give her some idea of what she accomplished and what she meant to so many people," he said. "I always told her that any accomplishments her students achieve in the future in terms of animal welfare is her's as well."

Ms. Bednarik founded and served as the first chair of the Animal Law Committee of the Pennsylvania Bar Association in 2004, planning and presenting at annual Animal Law conferences. In 2005, then-Gov. Ed Rendell appointed her to serve on the Dog Law Advisory Board, where she helped draft stronger regulations governing commercial puppy mills.

She also led a successful effort to get Animal Law courses added to law school curricula across the state.

On weekends, she and her husband helped transport dogs from kill shelters to no-kill shelters, foster homes and adoptive families. After Hurricane Katrina struck, they traveled to Louisiana to work with the Humane Society to help rescue dogs abandoned in New Orleans. There they met and adopted their beloved Chow Chow, Trina, who became a star guest at the Animal Law Conferences.

Ms. Bednarik was an astute legal mind one minute, a playful kid the next.

When she proposed to her husband in November 1993, she did it with dramatic flair by popping the question on the scoreboard of a Penguins game at the Civic Arena. She also delighted in riding with her husband on some of the most stomach-dropping roller coasters ever built.

She arbitrarily chose the day of Aug. 23 each year as a day of personal growth. One year she parachuted from an airplane while tied to a jump instructor. Another year she swam with Hector Dolphins in New Zealand. Other adventures she enjoyed on that special day were as tame as tap dancing or as daring as hang gliding off a mountain in Alaska.

Following a massive heart attack she survived in May 2011, Ms. Bednarik held a "Happy to Be Alive" party in June 2012, which was attended by more than 100 friends who traveled from across the country and Canada.

Ms. Bednarik and her husband would have been married 20 years in April, but they have been together since September 1977. They had no children, but "she was an amazing aunt to all 11 of her nieces and nephews," he said. "And we always had rescue dogs and a great deal of our lives were devoted to them."

A graduate of Mt. Lebanon High School, Ms. Bednarik finished her coursework a year early in 1974 to live in Isreal. She received her bachelor's degree in social welfare from Penn State University. She was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and was selected College Marshall at Penn State.

She received a master's of social work from University of Maryland and her law degree from UCLA School of Law.

After a brief stint as a commercial litigator and family law associate for two major firms in California, she served as an assistant district attorney in Allegheny County from 1990 to 1996. Then as a disciplinary counsel for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, she prosecuted attorneys who were found to violate rules of professional responsibility.

From 2010 to 2013, Ms. Bednarik was director of character and fitness for the state Board of Law Examiners.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by three brothers, Alan Scheimer and Craig Scheimer of Mt. Lebanon and Gary Scheimer of Dormont.

Friends will be received noon to 2 p.m. today at William Slater II Funeral Service, 1650 Greentree Road, Scott, with service to follow.

The family suggests memorial contributions to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, 170 East Cotati Ave., Cotati, CA 94931 or Partners in Health, P.O. Box 996, Frederick, MD 21705-9942.


Tim Grant: tgrant@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1591.


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