BRADENTON, Fla. — The legal work associated with municipal offerings is serious business, but by some accounts there were few dull moments over the past 34 years when bond attorney Elise Judelle was on a transaction.
Judelle, one of the first female bond lawyers in Florida, retired March 29 after spending most of her career with Bryant Miller Olive PA.
Colleagues and issuers describe her as an expert bond attorney and mentor who had a "devilish sense of humor."
Judelle said her time in office was "lots of fun" and challenging when tax and constitutional questions arose particularly in the affordable housing arena, her primary focus.
She was co-chair of BMO's affordable housing practice, and bond counsel to state and local government housing agencies, among others.
Wayne Conner said he worked with Judelle for 15 years at the Florida Housing Finance Corp., and learned the basics about bond financing from her.
"She was a great source of knowledge and expertise," said Conner, director of FHFC's multifamily bond program. "She was a joy to work with, always extremely helpful, and had a keen sense of humor. We'll definitely miss her."
Judelle earned a law degree at Florida State University College of Law.
She co-owned one of the first female-owned law firms in Tallahassee, before going to work at Bryant Miller in 1979 to practice municipal finance exclusively.
As "a trusted advisor to local and state government, she has excelled in the practice all the while maintaining an impeccable reputation and a devilish sense of humor," said Grace Dunlap, managing shareholder at BMO.
"She has been known to take a copy of the National Inquirer to bond closings just to have something absurd to talk about," Dunlap said.
When asked about career highlights, Judelle said a favorite closing was in 1985 during Hurricane Kate when she and other attorneys were working on three simultaneous housing deals on the seventh floor of Bryant Miller's Tallahassee offices.
The group left the office for a safer location, working until midmight in the ballroom of a hotel. When they finished, nearly all the city was without power.
"You gotta do what you've gotta do," she said in a recent interview while vacationing in Hawaii. "I knew that I was in practice too long because we just did a refinancing on one of those deals from 1985."
An important case she worked on was State v. Miami Beach Redevelopment Agency, which successfully defended the legality of tax increment financing all the way to the Florida Supreme Court.
"Some people at the Supreme Court said this law is a crime against nature," she recalled. "It was a very contentious court."
While at Bryant Miller, Judelle was instrumental in mentoring young lawyers and encouraging them to study state laws and the constitution when working on new cases, said Randy Hanna, a former BMO bond attorney who is now chancellor of the state college system.
"At the same time she realized that the practice of law can be fun," Hanna said. "Through her unique sense of humor, Elise had the perfect way of stressing the importance of the law as opposed to the perceived importance of lawyers."
Judelle said she won't miss the legal work. She plans to continue writing for a political cabaret called "The Laughing Stock," and she has formed a professional production company. She may do some traveling.
Looking back on her career, she said ever-changing codes and regulations were among the biggest challenges, though there were frustrating times when the economy affected bond issuance. Still, she enjoyed the transactional aspect of municipal finance, and its collaborative nature.
"It's a good area of law," Judelle said, adding that an upside to being a bond attorney is "you never have to talk about what you do at cocktail parties."