Marty Ginsberg died on June 27th at the age of 83. Not only was he the premier tax attorney/professor in the country, he was undoubtedly the most entertaining. It is impossible to think of him without smiling.
Because I owe career choice in large part to Marty, this column is dedicated to him
Of course, my law school tax professor, Stephen Schwarz, had a major impact on my decision to become a tax lawyer and many consider Steve just as witty.
I first met Marty in Honolulu at the Hawaii Tax Institute, where he, along with his sidekicks Jack Levin and Gordon Henderson, held a room packed with tax attorneys spellbound, as they explained the intricacies of corporate mergers and takeovers, while razzing each other endlessly.
At the time, I was practicing law in Hilo, Hawaii. Once, while in line at the Hilo airport I ran into Marty and his spouse. Startled, I ask him what is a famous person like him doing in Hilo.
He just smiled as said, “Oh, you must mean my wife, Ruth.” Marty’s wife would become a Supreme Court justice several years later.
On the plane, we discussed NYU’s graduate tax program and I decided that was the career change I wanted to pursue.
Marty was brilliant, cynical, witty and humorous. He enjoyed poking fun at IRS and his fellow panelists. He often finished his complicated legal analysis by quoting Yogi Berra or his three-year-old grandson.
When he found a loophole or inconsistency in the tax law, he pounced. In Washington, government tax lawyers would fret over whether their regulations were “Ginsberg-proof.”
As a teacher, he’d tell his students to relax, “basic tax, as everyone knows, is the only genuinely funny subject in law school.”
When he first lectured with Jack Levin — his straight-man and co-author of their leading corporate treatise on mergers and acquisitions — he told Jack to start talking and he would interject if he thought of something.
Jack spoke for about 10 minutes when Marty chimed in stating, “you’ve just committed malpractice, if an associate said something as dumb as that, he’d be kicked out of our firm!” Shocked and caught totally off-guard, Jack stammered but finally started in on Marty — and that was the beginning of the best teaching tandem I’ve ever experienced.
Marty, tax lawyers across the county are going to miss you deeply. Thank you for your wisdom, inspiration and sense of humor.