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July 10, 2007

In Memoriam: The Honorable John L. Hill, 1923–2007

Photo of the Honorable John L. Hill
The Honorable John L. Hill

Hill graduated from UT Law in 1947 and led a remarkable legal and public service career spanning 60 years

AUSTIN, Texas—The Honorable John L. Hill, Jr., an alumnus of The University of Texas School of Law who was the only person in Texas history to serve as secretary of state, attorney general, and chief justice, died in Houston on Monday, July 9. He was 83.

The former chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court was born in Breckenridge, Texas, on Oct. 9, 1923. He graduated from UT Law with honors in 1947.

Except for the 11 years he spent in state government, Judge Hill had been a practicing trial lawyer. He served as Secretary of State of the State of Texas from 1966 to 1968. He was elected Attorney General of Texas in 1972 and served in that office until 1979. In 1984, he was elected Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas and served on the court until 1988. Hill had extensive experience in state and federal courts throughout the United States, including many appearances before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Texas is very lucky to have had a lawyer-citizen as committed and talented as John Hill,” said UT School of Law Dean Lawrence Sager. “And we at the UT School of Law are very proud to count him as one of our own. His was a great life in the law; his death is a great loss to us all.”

Along with family and friends, Hill established the John L. Hill Trial Advocacy Center at The University of Texas School of Law. Dedicated on April 2, 2004, the Center oversees the practical training of UT Law students in trial and appellate advocacy.

“John Hill was not only an impressive advocate himself but a great teacher and supporter of advocacy, “ said Tracy McCormack, director of UT Law’s Trial Advocacy Program. “He remained passionate about the importance of the preservation of the jury system and the training of lawyers, teaching and working on new projects until his death. He will be missed not just by the UT Law community but by all lawyers and law students and by the people that he taught us all to serve. The law has lost a great servant and we have lost a great mentor.”

At the time of his death, Hill was in private practice at the Texas law firm of Winstead P.C. which he joined in 2005 as a shareholder in its litigation and appellate practices. Previously, he was a senior partner in the Houston-based law firm of Locke Liddell Sapp L.L.P. where he headed the litigation section. In his earlier practice in Houston, he was a name partner in Hill, Brown, Knonzer, & Abraham.

“John Hill was a great lawyer, first and foremost, but you couldn’t be around him long without knowing that he cared deeply about this great state and he believed its leaders were elected to serve its people,” said Martha Smiley, a 1972 UT Law graduate and a lawyer at Winstead. “He brought an energy and purpose to the Office of Attorney General that was infectious. Those of us who had the privilege of serving under him knew him as a tireless public servant, an incredible mentor, a brilliant advocate and an exemplary role model. He never sought the safe course; rather he put his passion for the law and the public good and his extraordinary talent to work as ‘the people's lawyer.’ Texas has lost a giant leader and friend.”

Hill was a member of the American College of Trial Lawyers, International Academy of Trial Lawyers, International Society of Barristers, Order of the Coif Legal Society, and served as President of Texans for Judicial Excellence, among a host of other professional affiliations.

He received the Leon Green Award for Outstanding Service to the Legal Profession; the American Judicature Society Herbert Hawley Award; the Freedom of the Press Award; the Marc Gold Award for Outstanding Service to the Mentally Retarded; the Karen H. Susman Jurisprudence Award; and the Lola Wright Foundation Award for Legal Ethics.

In 1991, Judge Hill was named a Distinguished Alumnus of The University of Texas, and in 1997 he received the Law School’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Judge Hill’s memorial service is scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday, July 13, at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church at 3471 Westheimer in Houston. A reception immediately following the church service will be held in the Fellowship Hall at St. Luke’s. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations be made to St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, Young Life, or the John L. Hill, Jr. Trial Advocacy Center at The University of Texas Law School in Austin.

Related Links:

Winstead Remembers Former Texas Supreme Court Justice John L. Hill Jr.:

Houston Chronicle: Former Texas Supreme Court Justice John Hill dies:

Texas Supreme Court Advisory: Former Chief Justice Hill Dies:

Tarlton Law Library Biography on John L. Hill Jr.:

Press Contact: Kirston Fortune, Assistant Dean for Communications, (512) 471.7330 or