Thomas Bell Rutter, 79, of Center City, a trial lawyer in Philadelphia, died Sunday, Sept. 27, at his vacation home in Avalon, N.J., due to complications from a heart ailment.

Born in Clayton, N.J., Mr. Rutter was raised in Pottstown. In 1952, he enrolled in the University of Chicago, where he completed two years before leaving to attend the Yale University Institute for Foreign Languages.

He joined the Air Force and served overseas in intelligence work. On returning to the United States, Mr. Rutter completed his bachelor's degree at the University of Chicago in 1958 and earned a degree from the university's law school in 1962.

He joined the Philadelphia law firm of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP as an associate. In 1969, Mr. Rutter and a partner formed the law firm Litvin & Rutter. In 1972, the firm became Thomas B. Rutter Ltd.

Mr. Rutter's specialty was trial law; he handled lots of it. His family estimated that he tried more than 500 cases involving the death penalty, corporate taxation, professional malpractice, sovereign immunity, white-collar crime, and political graft.

"He loved being a lawyer," son-in-law Joel Eads said.

During that period, Mr. Rutter was selected and served two years as a judge pro tempore, or volunteer substitute judge, for the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas.

He was so effective that, in December 1993, he was given the Fidelity Award by the Philadelphia Bar Association for helping to reduce the backlog of major civil cases that had clogged the court.

Former Administrative Judge Nelson A. Diaz said in a news release at the time that Mr. Rutter "is not only bright and industrious, but he knows more about the issues in these cases sometimes than the lawyers themselves."

"He wanted to be the smartest and best-prepared person in the room, and very often he was," Eads said.

In 1998, Mr. Rutter sold his share of the business as he made the transition from trial to mediation work.

Early in the 1990s, he had conceived of and started ADR Options Inc., one of the first alternative dispute resolution groups in Philadelphia. He served as its chief executive and principal mediator/arbitrator until 2012, when he decided to slow down.

Mr. Rutter was a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers. He spoke frequently on trial advocacy and alternative dispute resolution, here and abroad. He was often a court-appointed mediator/arbitrator.

In addition to the law, Mr. Rutter enjoyed traveling, reading and his family.

He is survived by his wife, Nancy Suzenski; daughters Amy Eads, Kristine Schwab and Kimberly Sheeler; son Thomas B. Jr.; a brother; eight grandchildren; and his former wife, Bertha Geiger Rutter.

A visitation from 10 to 10:30 a.m. Monday, Oct. 5, is to be followed by a 10:30 a.m. funeral service at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, 1723 Race St., Philadelphia. Burial is private.

Donations may be made to Helpusadopt.org, a nonprofit that helps ease the costs for adoptive families. The address is Helpusadopt.org, Box 787, New York, N.Y. 10150, or online at www.helpusadopt.org.

Editors Note: This story was revised to include additional survivors.

bcook@phillynews.com

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