C. Willis Ritter, a well-known tax attorney who played a major role in the municipal market, died on Sept. 26 in Palm Harbor, Fla. at the age of 77.
Ritter was a senior attorney adviser in the Treasury Department’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy from 1969 to 1972 and helped write many of the original tax-exempt bond regulations. He was a principal architect of the initial rules for arbitrage and the state and local government series securities program.
Ritter also helped develop a number of legal strategies and financing techniques.
“When interest rates hit inconceivable highs in the early 80’s, he simultaneously co-fathered compound interest/capital appreciation bonds and tender option bonds to lower effective borrowing rates.” said Wade Norris, Ritter’s long-time law firm partner. “He played a major role in the development of secondary market municipal securitizations and derivatives.”
“Brilliant, Creative, Outspoken, Assertive, Audacious, Articulate, Collaborative, Honest, Generous. All of these adjectives describe the Willis Ritter I knew,” said Norris.
With David Miller, another law firm partner, Ritter pioneered the use of computerized cash flow analyses to document legal compliance and the financial implications of many bond-related structures and was the first lawyer to retain an independent accounting firm, in 1973, to verify cash flow and yield calculations for a muni bond issue, according to colleagues.
Ritter effectively invented the role of special tax counsel, those colleagues said.
He was a co-founder and one of the first directors of the National Association of Bond Lawyers as well as the first chairman of its Education Committee. He was one of the original founders of the Bond Attorneys’ Workshop and chaired the BAW in 1979. He won the group’s Frederick O. Kiel distinguished service award in 2004.
He practiced at Haynes & Miller from 1972 through 1990. In the 1990s, he co-founded and managed Ritter Eichner & Norris. Later he practiced in the Washington, D.C. office of Chicago-based Ungaretti & Harris. In 2008 he set up a Washington office for Gonzalez Saggio & Harlan. He also set up his own firm and worked as of counsel at Quintairos, Prieto, Wood & Boyer.
“Willis was a giant in the field and as a new associate I appreciated his grasp of the reason behind the rhyme,” said Linda Schakel, a partner at Ballard Spahr in Washington, D.C. “While at Treasury working on the private activity bond regulations I was able to look back at the memos Willis had written when he was at Treasury and had the task of writing the rules …. Although he has not been as active recently, he has certainly left his mark.”
Over his 45 year career, he acted as counsel in roughly 900 separate public finance transactions totaling over $50 billion in principal amount, according to documents provided by his family.
“Willis was a most creative tax lawyer. He was not afraid to push the envelope for the benefit of his clients,” said Dave Caprera, of counsel at Kutak Rock in Denver. “He was always a gentleman who treated his colleagues with respect. And like Madonna, Elvis, Ringo and Cher, he was a one of a kind who was known to all by only his first name. I would pity a second public finance lawyer named ‘Willis.’”
Ritter took a sabbatical from his public finance practice from 1999 through 2001 to work overseas on a pro bono basis for the U.S. Agency for International Development, to help create private local capital markets in developing countries such as India, the Philippines, Costa Rico, and Kazakstan.
He spent 2001 and 2002 in Brussels and Geneva as chief legal advisor to establish the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, a United Nations-sponsored consortium of major industrialized nations in partnership with private entities.
He established the Ritter Scholars Program in 1983 in honor of his parents at the University of Virginia Law School. The program awards tuition help for third year students for extraordinary honor, character and integrity. He also set up the Roy H. Ritter 30 Masters in Engineering fellowship at Cornell University’s College of Civil and Environmental Engineering in honor of his father, and Ritter Scholarships at the McDonough School in Baltimore, Md.
He received his B.A. from Cornell University and his law degree from the University of Virginia. He was admitted to practice in Maryland, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Tax Court, and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ritter is survived by his wife, Anne, his three sons – Andrew, David and Benjamin -- as well as their wives, two siblings and seven grandchildren. The family plans to hold a memorial service at St. Columba’s church in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 1.