Numbers guy, human touch

In tax practice, Comiter finds his highest and best use

By Matt Walker and Richard Goldstein

Sitting on his couch before work in 1989 at his Pembroke Pines house, Richie Comiter (JD 80, LLMT 81) found himself at a crossroad. Comiter had recently resigned as a part- ner from a prestigious Miami law firm, trading a well-paid job in the tax department for the uncertainty of a startup
tax boutique practice in West Palm Beach.

“I felt that in a large law firm a tax lawyer’s role is ancillary to the other partners’ practices,” Comiter said. “In your own tax firm, you have the opportunity to create your own gold, build your own practice and create your own goals and aspirations. The key to successfully building a tax practice is to put out the best work product you can, communicate with your clients and do the right thing.”

But first Comiter had to find the clients — a difficult task in the early days of his business.

“I was getting ready to go to work,” recalled Marilyn Comiter, Richie’s wife, “and he was still sitting on the couch, just sitting there, and I said, ‘What are you doing? Just get up, get in your car, and drive to work in West Palm Beach. Rome was not built in a day.’”

That was years before Comiter’s young- est son Josh — a UF sophomore in business— was born, but the image of his dad sitting on a couch doing nothing throws him for a loop. All he knows was the peripatetic dad he grew up with.

“I’ve never seen him sit on the couch in the last 10 years,” Josh Comiter observed. “I’m not joking.”

The Comiter family chatted in April during the “Orange & Blue-B-Que” on the UF Law campus. Members of the Law Center Association Board of Trustees and their families were enjoying lunch before walking to Florida Field for the annual spring Orange & Blue football game.

Comiter pointed out his interests out- side of his law practice at Comiter, Singer, Baseman & Braun, LLP in Palm Beach Gardens. He plays in a competitive Jewish Community Center softball league on Sunday mornings against men half his age. He has also been an active member of the UF Board of Trustees since 2007 and is chairman of its Planned Giving Task Force — Sons Andrew Comiter (JD 08, LLMT 09) and Matthew (LLMT 12) both earned degrees from UF Law, and Andrew practices with his father.

But the reason Josh Comiter says he can’t remember his father sitting on the couch is that upon walking in the door of their Palm Beach Gardens home each weekday, his dad would eat dinner and then disappear into his home office to follow up on work from his law practice.
Comiter was always good with numbers. That is why he says he always wanted to be a tax lawyer. It is also how he passed the certified public accountant exam the year after getting his UF undergraduate degree in accounting. But Comiter has another character trait that may be more important to his success than numeracy or a great work ethic. It’s a knack for defusing emotional situations, solving problems and finding solutions where none seem possible.

“I’m a deal-maker, not a deal-breaker,” Comiter said.

Comiter specializes in individual income tax and estate planning for high networth individuals and structuring business and family succession planning transactions for passthrough entities. In this work he has found truth in a muchused literary device: Drama is not far away when people must decide how to preserve or dispose of great fortunes. Comiter remembers times when he helped clients through life crisis situations and played peacemaker to resolve family and business disputes.

“He has an innate ability of knowing how to deal with people and how to put them at ease when they’re going through whatever type of crisis it might be,” Marilyn Comiter said.

All the calming reassurance and hard work has won Comiter positions and accolades. He has served as the chair of the Tax Section of The Florida Bar and was the recipient of its prestigious Gerald T. Hart Outstanding Tax Attorney of the Year Award in 2010. He is a fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and was recognized by The Wall Street Journal and South Florida Legal Guide as a “Top 100 Florida Super Lawyer.” As a member of The Florida Bar’s Drafting Committee, he helped draft Florida’s Limited Liability Company Act, Revised Uniform Partnership Act and Florida Revised Uniform Limited Partnership Act.

But during the award ceremony for the Tax Attorney of the Year Award in 2010, Marilyn Comiter wanted to tell a story dif- ferent from the one featuring her husband’s resume. Everyone knows about Richie Comiter, the successful tax lawyer and all he has done for the profession, so Marilyn told the audience about what her husband of 35 years does not do.

“The word domestic is not in his vocabulary. Richie uses no appliances at home. He’s never washed clothes, (used the) dish- washer, never made coffee or anything,” she said. “I promise you that he has never seen the inside of a Lowe’s or Home Depot.”

Their family won’t be seen strolling through a shopping mall and Comiter won’t be caught mowing the lawn, Marilyn said. But that’s how he can accomplish so much as an attorney — he is focused on his firm, clients and spending quality time with his family. And besides, he knows where his skills are most valuable. It’s what Comiter calls his HBU. His highest and best use is not working around the house.

“Richie has always said to me, ‘Just hire someone. I’m more productive in my office than I would be trying to do it myself.’”