I knew John Witmeyer for 43 years. First as a colleague at Mudge Rose and the last 37 years as his law partner. Like all of us John was not perfect. He was, however, the perfect lawyer. The best I have ever known, maybe the best ever. Perfection personified.This is not hyperbole when you realize the depth and breath of his brilliance, his encyclopedic knowledge of the law, his energy and drive and his unmatched ability to execute.
John mastered complex litigation first. When he was barely 27 he took a pro bono case from the Third Circuit and argued it brilliantly to the U.S. Supreme Court (you can hear his argument on the USSC website, under Warden v. Marrero, 1974).
John was a speed reader. He told me long ago when I first observed his amazing skill that while in high school he took an Evelyn Wood Speed Reading course. He could read and absorb complex documents in minutes, literally flipping through the pages with his thumb. Often after doing this he would hand me the thick document to read and after plodding through for what seemed like a very long time(while he patiently waited), we would discuss the document and after a while he would say something like, what do you think of footnote 18. Of course footnote 18 was the key issue and I had glossed over it in my haste to just finish. He was amazing.
He was a speed writer. Upon receiving an opposition document, he would usually repair to his office and within a very short time, maybe as long as an hour or two, he would emerge with a 20-30 page retort, ready to go, compelling analyzed and beautifully written.
I know this all sounds like exaggeration. However, there are scores of lawyers who have passed through our law firm and many grateful clients who can vouch for what I say because they saw what he could do.
John was also a man of science, having studied chemistry in college and rising to the rank of Colonel in the US Army, attached at one time to the chemical warfare unit. John kept up with the serious scientific periodicals and as a science person he was fastidious with the facts and steeped in cause and effect. Where most lawyers zone out when dealing with technical material, relying on what a hired expert tells them, John would master the technical details such that he would tell his expert witness precisely what the expert testimony should be. It was never the other way around. Nothing was more electric than to see John cross exam an expert witness, be it engineering, medicine, financial and watch him turn the guy inside out, exposing all the fluff, faulty assumptions and reasoning. One adversary, at the end of a drawn out complex federal court litigation, grudgingly labeled him "Maximum Leader."
After John conquered litigation, and he did it all, antitrust, securities fraud, large construction, white collar criminal, constitutional, matrimonial, you name it, he set out to do the same to virtually every other specialty.
He made himself the very best corporate and transactional lawyer. Public offerings, securitizations, mergers and acquisitions, leasing, licensing, all of it. He just taught himself. Where other transactional lawyers mostly operate by rote, copying over and modifying prior deals--cookie cutting they call it--John first immersed himself in the actual facts and details of the transaction and then crafted the documents from scratch to fit the realities of the businesses involved. It is like the difference between an alteration tailor
who makes small modifications here and there to an off the rack suit and a master tailor who hand makes the entire suit to perfectly fit the contours of the client. Everything John did perfectly fit the client.
He also became the most talented tax lawyer and strategist on the planet. He would design intricate, exotic tax strategies for corporate and wealthy individuals that were bullet proof when the IRS came knocking. He wrote complex estate plans.
Several years ago john wrote a patent application for a highly theoretical pharmaceutical invention which was a model for clarity and substantive precision. Because John was not a member of the patent bar, the client signed the application. Eventually the patent examiner, a veteran of over 30 years called the inventor--not to ask follow up questions because he had none, but to verify the guy existed because he had never read a patent on such a complex subject written so crisply and understandably.
The examiner asked if he could use it as a demonstration on how to draft a patent. The patent was granted in record time.
It was my good fortune to have met John Witmeyer and to have been his partner. I have and will be forever grateful and indebted to him. And, so should the many lawyers and clients who were taught by him or represented by him and were lucky to see him in action.
We are also grateful for his friendship and kindness. Yes, John was a tough, brilliant lawyer, and a military man who could be highly disciplined and strong-willed. Yet he could be soft and generous to a fault. If he took a liking to you,particularly if he sensed you needed and welcomed help, he would be unstinting in giving of himself. As many know, every Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year, Easter, John would unfailingly call a long list of people to wish them well. With his prodigious memory, he remembered everyone's birthday.
While I have never had the slightest
envy of John's immense legal skills, only the deepest admiration, I can relate to the envious Salieri, who on hearing Mozart's perfect notes, knew he was hearing a voice from God.
John had all the answers here on earth and as Maryanne Ford said to me a few days after John's passing, he will now have a chance to have all the eternal answers. Rest in peace John.