Born August 10, 1942, died January 2, 2021, from Alzheimer’s. A woman of great intelligence, beauty, and style, Mary Jo’s life was a testament to the American Dream. Raised with two sisters by her single mother in South Gate, California, she worked her way through high school and college, eventually graduating from U.C. Berkeley. Working as a secretary at the Berkeley Law School while in college, because of her obvious ability and intelligence, she was encouraged to attend Berkeley Law by a number of faculty members when there were very few women attending law school. She distinguished herself academically, serving on the Law Review.
Mary Jo went on to be one of the pioneers of women in the law. She was the second woman to be asked to work for the very prominent McCutchen firm in San Francisco, focusing on antitrust litigation. In 1975, along with her husband and Robert Charles Friese, she founded Shartsis Friese LLP, which became one of the premier mid-sized firms in the country. She practiced at the firm for over 40 years, specializing in large-scale complex litigation. She served as the President of the Berkeley Law School Alumni Association, was on the Dean search committee, represented the Law School on the U.C. Berkeley Foundation, and headed the Boalt Hall Fund. In 2020, she received the Citation Award, Berkeley Law School’s highest alumni honor.
Mary Jo served as President of the Legal Aid Society of San Francisco (now Legal Aid at Work) and President of the Association of Business Trial Lawyers of San Francisco. She was active in Democratic politics, with a focus on increasing the role of women in politics. She was a co-author of Matthew Bender’s Federal Pretrial Civil Procedure in California. The American Jewish Committee presented her with the prestigious Learned Hand Award. Mary Jo traveled with judge and lawyer delegations to a number of foreign countries to present American approaches to the law to prominent judges in those countries.
Mary Jo was a devoted wife and mother to her three sons. In the summers she would go with her family to their cabin on the North Fork of the Snake River in Eastern Idaho to fly fish for trout. On weekends and holidays her family would spend time in the Napa Valley, where they grew world-class Cabernet Sauvignon in the vineyard they owned together with life-long friends. A brilliant chef, Mary Jo would always provide wonderful meals. When the Shartsis home burned in the Oakland Fire, she still managed to maintain the stability of family life during the one year transition to a new home.
Mary Jo was charitable and compassionate. She was deeply offended by social injustice. Her philosophy of giving led her law firm to be recognized as one of the most charitable businesses in the Bay Area.
She is survived by her husband of 49 years, Arthur J. Shartsis, her three sons Alexander, Matthew, and Benjamin, her daughters-in-law Kim and Melanie, and four grandchildren. Donations in her memory may be made to Legal Aid at Work.