Fritz Stradling, who co-founded Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth’s public finance practice, died peacefully in his sleep on Feb. 17. He was 96.
He and his fellow co-founders of Stradling’s public finance practice, John Murphy and Tom Clark, are credited with helping to give California bond law firms stature in the public finance world.
“Before cell phones, desktop computers, email, and virtual meetings, Stradling traveled California’s freeways and byways, helping cities, counties, and special districts issue tax-exempt bonds which enabled the buildout of essential public infrastructure throughout developing portions of California,” according to a statement from the firm. “His embrace of the frontier spirit reflected in the Remington cowboy statues displayed in his office, helped him build the firm’s public finance practice in its nascent days in the Golden State.”
In January 1978, Stradling, along with fellow bond attorneys Murphy and Clark, joined Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth, which had been founded three years earlier.
The trio had established bond marketplace acceptance at their old firm, Rutan & Tucker, and were taking a chance that their reputation would carry over, Murphy told The Bond Buyer in 2018. Murphy has since retired as of counsel with Stradling. Fritz Stradling slowly eased into retirement over several years in the mid-2000s, and Clark remains as of counsel.
At the time, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and O’Melveny & Myers were the big firms whose opinions were accepted by the California municipal bond market, Murphy said. The trio had worked hard at Rutan & Tucker to become the third firm that government issuers looked to for bond counsel.
“He really helped build acceptance in bond opinions west of the Mississippi,” said Brian Forbath, a shareholder at Stradling.
After Nick Yocca, Craig Carlson and Bill Rauth left to start their own firm, Murphy said he and his colleagues began to question whether Rutan was still the best platform for a public finance practice.
Yocca, Carlson and Rauth were Rutan’s experts on federal regulatory matters and the public finance trio had counted on them for advice in writing bond counsel opinions, Murphy said. So they rejoined them at the new firm.
The public finance practice’s first deal at its new firm was as sole bond counsel on a transaction for a local water district.
Fritz Stradling helped form and served as general counsel for several water districts that today serve large populations in Orange and Riverside counties.
He was responsible for building the foundation of the firm’s bond counsel practice, and also left behind a legacy of creating a collegial atmosphere, Forbath said.
Today, the full-service law firm with 130 attorneys in ten offices has risen to consistently rank in the top 10 nationally as bond counsel, disclosure counsel, and underwriter’s counsel. Its attorneys have worked on the some of the state’s most notable public finance moments, including the Orange County and San Bernardino bankruptcies, and worked through changes wrought by the dissolution of the state’s redevelopment agencies a decade ago.
“I credit him, along with John Murphy and Tom Clark, with being the instigators of our bond counsel practice,” said Carol Lew, a Stradling shareholder who specializes in tax law.
“They really helped build the foundations of the practice that we still have today,” she said.
“He was very good at developing business,” Lew said. “He was helpful in institutionalizing certain aspects of our practice. Large parts of our water district practice started with Fritz. We have built on it since then, but we credit him with that.”
He also represented local cities and special districts, and was “really a trailblazer in the beginning when Southern California was built out, particularly Riverside and the Inland Empire,” Lew said.
He was a leader in the municipal bond community and was a frequent lecturer at many industry conferences, according to the firm’s statement.
Stradling was known for his sense of humor, and ability to lighten tense moments with his calming manner, while maintaining a focus on business objectives.
The 1994 Orange County bankruptcy was an unsettling shock for the municipal bond market, particularly for a firm based in Orange County.
“It was a very troubling period, and people were worried if all the business would dry up. We were a much smaller firm then.” Lew said.
“I asked Fred, and he said, “Don’t worry, it will be fine, I have been practicing 50 years,” Lew said. “You see ups and downs in the industry, and things occur. He just had the sense and the calming presence to be able to explain that to a young lawyer.
“He was just very calm,” Lew said. “I remember driving with him out into the boonies to visit clients, and Fred was listening to music and laughing to the music on the radio. He was just a very self-effacing, humorous, calm person.”
Stradling was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison as an undergraduate and for law school.
He is survived by Mary, his wife of 65 years; his daughters Sandra and Laurie; his son-in-law; and his grandchildren.