Have You Met?

On May 5, 2005, Project PAVE, will honor Bill Ritter, Jr. for the 12 years of outstanding contributions he has made as the Chairman of the Project PAVE Board. Bill is without question a worthy recipient of this recognition for all his years of dedicated service to PAVE’s mission of empowering youth to end the cycle of relationship violence by teaching them positive social skills and counseling the kids who have experienced relationship violence in their young lives.

Mr. Ritter deserves kudos for being the honorable hero that he is. Bill Ritter, the highly regarded Former Denver District Attorney, who served from June 1993 through January 10, 2005, is often associated with his devotion and service to the community – and not just as someone doing his job in a political office.

Bill, who is one of 12 children, earned his way through college by working as a construction worker to pay for his education at both Colorado State University, and the University of Colorado School of Law.

Bill and wife Jeannie have tried to raise their kids with values and ethics by keeping them active in sports, and talking with them a lot about dating, drugs, and violence.

One of the most meaningful times in Bill’s, Jeannie’s, and their children’s lives was the three years that they spent in Mongu, Zambia, where he was coordinator for the Mongu Nutrition Group. Jeannie Ritter had been a Peace Corps volunteer, and Bill and Jeannie shared a dream of going overseas to do volunteer development work in a Third World country. Bill says, “I will never forget the grace and hope of the Zambian people. We saw all the issues that people who live in poverty struggle with, including significant malnutrition, tropical diseases without adequate health care, and we saw the early devastation of the AIDS pandemic making its mark. In spite of that, it was a rich experience that I would not trade for the world!”

The best way to sum up Bill Ritter, Jr. is to say he is a principled man with an abundance of compassion for people who are suffering in our world. He’s an exceptionally competent leader with tons of integrity. As someone who worked with Bill as a D.A. put it, “He’s the most straightforward person I’ve ever met. He’s fair-minded and competent, and we hope he can continue to serve people - it’s what he loves to do!”

What type of law did you originally want to practice? My first ambition was to be a labor lawyer. I interned at the Denver D.A.’s office, and after that, I never looked back.

Who is your mentor? Brooke Wunnicke (Award-winning Law Professor, Attorney, & Author). She was a big influence in how I wrote and how I thought. She defined for me the way every lawyer should practice law.

What are some memorable words of advice you will never forget? Dale Tooley (former Denver D.A. in the early 1980’s) said to me… “I’ll take care of the political issues. You just do the right thing!”

What are some of your favorite weekend activities? I try to find a way to be outdoors. I enjoy biking, fishing, skiing – and watching football games.

We hear that you always have a guest staying at your home? We have someone staying with us - almost all the time – maybe a relative who needs a basement for a while. A kid whose parent had a drug problem stayed with us for a couple of years. We’re pretty flexible – it’s like a 24-hour open house.

What law would you like to see changed? I believe as a nation and state, and city, we have to figure out what we’re going to do about drug use, abuse, and trafficking. I think it’s appropriate to incarcerate people involved in the drug trade, but we should ask ourselves what we might do differently about people who are addicts and abusers. If there’s a way to maintain public safety that doesn’t spend state resources incarcerating those who are only abusers, that’s an area we need to think about. I have so much respect for our Denver Court bench. However, I think the way we were operating the drug court before was the right way. I know our courts are again getting overwhelmed with cases involving drugs.

What do you miss most about being Denver’s District Attorney? I miss working with the staff; working on the right thing to do. The D.A. job challenges your intellect and your moral direction. Doing the right thing is not always that easy.

What did you learn to appreciate about being the District Attorney? I appreciated the fact that, after getting input from gifted attorneys, I was the final arbiter. The best thing is just the notion of being involved with a group of colleagues who are bent on trying to do justice every day in every case.

What kept you going during challenging times? Knowing that you’re constantly doing something that makes a difference in the lives of people and in the quality of life for the community.

What do you consider your proudest achievement? Over an 11 ½ year period, I worked to build the best D.A.’s office in the country, with competent, talented and compassionate people on the staff. As I departed, I believe I accomplished just that.

What might your epitaph read - or what would you most like to be remembered for? “He left the world a better place than how he found it.”

Bill Ritter's Community Involvement:

Chairman of the Board of Project PAVE (Promoting Alternatives to Violence Through Education); Board Member of Mile High United Way; Vice President of The National District Attorneys Association; Chairman of the American Prosecutors Research Institute; Board Member of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals; Serves on the Human Services Committee of The Denver Foundation; Ritter established several community based programs, including Victim’s Advocate Team, Denver Drug Court, the Denver Victims Service Project, the Community Justice Unit, and a Juvenile Diversion Program; Winner of the 2003 “Ambassador of Peace Award”; Now Partnering to Establish: >“Partners of After School for All: Project 2010” – Providing children with access to quality, safe and enriching after school programs.

References: The Denver Bar Association Publication: The Docket, and February 11, 2005 Press Release from Hogan & Hartson Law Firm.