Roger P. Thomasch, an esteemed member of the Colorado bar whose compelling courtroom advocacy and gift for connecting with judges and jurors placed him in the top tier of trial lawyers nationally, died July 14 of cancer at his home in Denver. He was 74.

Mr. Thomasch was a partner at Ballard Spahr for 30 years. He was the former Chair of the firm's Litigation Department and the longtime Managing Partner of its Denver office. During a distinguished career spanning nearly five decades, he tried more than 100 cases to verdict. The Colorado Chapter of the American College of Trial Lawyers, which Mr. Thomasch once chaired, voted unanimously this month to present him with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

"He was, first and last, a trial lawyer," Litigation Department Chair Geoff Kahn said. "To him, that was the essence of being a lawyer."

At Ballard Spahr, Mr. Thomasch was admired as much for his success in the courtroom as for his decency, kindness, and loyalty to those around him – regardless of title or position – and his habit of highlighting the achievements of others while downplaying his own. He had a big, joyous laugh and, in and out of court, was polished, prepared, and possessed of an unmistakable integrity.

"Roger is irreplaceable, and so our loss is immeasurable," firm Chair Mark Stewart said. "His energy and spirit, and innate decency, pushed us to do and be better. Now he is gone and we are without our great friend, steadfast partner, and extraordinary counselor. While I have always been amazed at Roger's ability to rise above, his battle with cancer was at a higher level. He would not let us get discouraged. He was optimistic, yet realistic. He acknowledged his bad luck, and counted his blessings. He accepted the likelihood of death, but did not let it define his life. As he wrote to me after being told that he likely had only months to live, 'I fully intend to keep fighting and to show that even though cancer often prevails in the end, there are battles to be won and giving up is out of the question.'"

Illness did not stop Mr. Thomasch from attending to responsibilities at the firm, including sending emails to Mr. Kahn seeking approval for minor billing matters. "That he was even working in the midst of his personal crisis was quite remarkable, but that he would write those emails, regarding the most mundane of topics, was absolutely jaw-dropping," Mr. Kahn said. "After a while, I came to understand why. Roger viewed that task, however menial, as part of his responsibility as a Ballard partner and he fully intended to discharge that responsibility. Even in the worst of times, he remained the best of partners."

Born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, Mr. Thomasch was the oldest of five children in a home with a strict ethical code. He earned a B.A. in Accounting from the College of William & Mary in 1964 and a J.D. from Duke University School of Law in 1967. Mr. Thomasch began his career at Cummings & Lockwood in Stamford, Connecticut, and then spent three years as a trial lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice. From there he headed to Des Moines, Iowa, at the invitation of a law school classmate, to teach for a year at Drake University Law School. That year, he won the Outstanding Professor Award, of which he was immensely proud.

With offers in hand to join law firms in Denver, San Diego, and Tampa, Mr. Thomasch settled on Denver. He thought it was big enough to be a good city in which to live, yet small enough that he could make his mark. And he did.

Mr. Thomasch was recognized as Best Commercial Litigator in Law Week Colorado's 2016 Barrister's Best. He has been named by Super Lawyers as a "Top 10 Colorado Lawyer" continuously since 2006. Chambers USA: America's Leading Lawyers for Business has awarded him its highest ranking (Band One) in "Litigation: General Commercial Law" every year since 2003. He has been ranked by The Best Lawyers in America for bet-the-company litigation, banking and finance litigation, commercial litigation, M&A litigation, real estate litigation, and securities litigation since 1987. In 1999, Mr. Thomasch was inducted into the American College of Trial Lawyers, and last summer was inducted into the International Academy of Trial Lawyers.

In the last case he tried, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, Mr. Thomasch was at his finest, recalls Partner David Stauss, his protégé and friend: "Roger gave his closing argument directly after the lunch break. What sticks out in my mind is that, in the half hour before his closing, the courtroom filled with law clerks, court staff, bailiffs, Ballard attorneys and staff, and local attorneys. We all wanted to see Roger close. Despite the fact that Roger was in incredible pain, he delivered a truly great closing. I remember jurors nodding in agreement as Roger made his arguments and the judge leaning back in his chair and staring at the ceiling because he couldn't believe how effective Roger was. Of course, the jury came back in Roger's favor."

It was the bookend to a courtroom career that began with a one-day jury trial in the early 1970s, shortly after Mr. Thomasch began his tenure as a trial attorney in the Department of Justice. After the jury was charged, he was persuaded by a more seasoned colleague to wait for the verdict in a local bar. The colleague assured him that the jury would be out for at least a few hours. Soon after they left the courthouse, the jury returned – with a verdict for the Government. Mr. Thomasch was not there to hear it.

His understanding of people, of the tempo of a trial and the attention span of jurors, of when to ask the next question and when to narrow the focus of a cross-examination – these were among the countless skills that allowed Mr. Thomasch to reach the highest level of the profession.

"I have never seen anyone more at home in the courtroom than Roger," said Daniel Thomasch, a prominent trial lawyer at Gibson Dunn, who followed his brother's path. "He was in the perfect profession for him."

Beverly Quail, a retired partner at Ballard Spahr, remembers running into a lawyer one day who had just lost a significant case to Mr. Thomasch. The lawyer said that, although Mr. Thomasch had devastated his client on cross-examination, he was a gentleman throughout the proceedings – courteous, respectful, and collegial. "That was one of his trademarks," Ms. Quail said. "He had those core old-fashioned values."

Mr. Thomasch lived for his family, his clients, and his cases. Leisure activities were far down the totem pole. "He loved what he did, and that is why he always worked as hard as he did," Daniel Thomasch said.

In early 2016, Mr. Thomasch broke the news of his cancer, and its advanced state, to his colleagues in Denver – his "Ballard family," as he called them. Discomfort and uncertainty became constants, but he approached the disease with a litigator's tenacity, refusing to back down, determined to win. Even at the bleakest moments of his ordeal, his emails were infused with a spirit of optimism – "I am going to win this war, but it is going to take more time" – and deep gratitude for the support of colleagues, who provided friendship and prayers, took over his cases, and, in one instance, went to bat with an insurer to win quick approval for a badly needed drug.

In a show of their loyalty and affection, his office mates ordered yellow wristbands embossed with the inscription "No One FIGHTS Alone!" – which became the accessory du jour and the office battle cry. They made a cardboard cutout of their missing colleague—Flat Roger—and, at office gatherings, they surrounded it, held their wristbands aloft, and snapped pictures for him. "I will always treasure these photos and will never forget how hard you all have worked to keep me included in whatever is happening in the office," he wrote after receiving one. An impeccable dresser, he could not help but joke, "By the way, I think it is time to update Flat Roger's wardrobe. He is clearly the worst dressed person in every photo no matter the occasion. Embarrassing."

Last December, after Mr. Thomasch shaved his head in anticipation of losing his hair to chemotherapy, the office staged a head-shaving fund-raiser. Donations poured in from lawyers and staff around the firm; more than $50,000 was raised for the University of Colorado Cancer Center, where Mr. Thomasch was being treated.

"He was our leader, our partner, our mentor, our colleague, and our friend," Steve Suflas, who succeeded Mr. Thomasch as Denver Managing Partner, wrote in an email. "Words fail."

Mr. Thomasch had been the center of office life.

"He had a magnetic personality," Partner Leslie Eaton said. "He made time for you. He made you feel important."

Every year on staff appreciation day, Mr. Thomasch made a speech in which he told the staff how special they were. "He said he could never retire because the people here meant too much to him," Paralegal Christine Snider said.

IT Project Administrator Polly Artim worked with Mr. Thomasch from his first day at the firm, when he told her, "I'm going to make you a litigator!" She spent a recent day looking back through old pictures – of fun times at holiday parties, of Mr. Thomasch and herself with the trophy they won in a tournament on the putting green at their office building. "Any one of us would do anything for Roger," she said. "Anything."

Having to abruptly cut back, and be out of the office for long stretches, was difficult for Mr. Thomasch, who treasured his colleagues and relished his work. He missed it terribly. And he was missed. When Mr. Thomasch's doctors advised him not to travel to Philadelphia last summer for the retirement party of a close colleague, a group of partners from Philadelphia arranged to fly to Denver and have dinner with him. They laughed and talked all evening. No one mentioned the cancer. "Last evening's dinner was what Ballard is all about," Roger wrote to the group the next day. "I cannot adequately explain how much it meant to me to have each of you give up two days and travel 1,500 miles each way so that we could share a few hours. I will never forget it."

Mr. Thomasch is survived by his children, Laura Uzzle and Paul Thomasch; his son-in-law, Brian Uzzle; his daughter-in-law, Angela Moore Thomasch; his grandchildren, Grant and Katherine Uzzle and Rosemary and Vincent Thomasch; his loving partner, Mary Jane (Janie) Harrington; his siblings, Eileen Stisitis, Mary Thomasch, Daniel Thomasch, and James Thomasch; his sisters-in-law, Jeannine Thomasch and Christine Thomasch; and many nieces and nephews.

One of the family's most cherished traditions was the gathering Mr. Thomasch hosted each year at Thanksgiving time on Kiawah Island, South Carolina. He would rent a big house and bring together his children, grandchildren, and any siblings who could attend. Last year, unable to make the trip to Kiawah, he was nonetheless determined to have the family together, and arranged for everyone to gather at a home he rented in Breckenridge, Colorado, not far from Denver.

Around that time, he sent a Thanksgiving message to Mr. Stewart. "I wish I could be contributing more to the success of the firm and still hope to be able to do so in the coming year," he wrote. "On this Thanksgiving I am enormously grateful for the support and encouragement I have received from my partners."

In lieu of flowers, Mr. Thomasch's family has requested that memorial donations be made to the Denver Dumb Friends League or the University of Colorado Hospital Foundation, Urologic Oncology Research.

A Celebration of Life is planned for Saturday, July 22, from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. MDT at the Denver Country Club in Cherry Creek. The address is 1700 E. First Avenue, Denver, Colorado, 80218.


Photo courtesy of Law Week Colorado