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John Hill, Former TX Chief Justice, Dies

Posted Jul 9, 2007 7:07 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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John Luke Hill Jr., a Houston trial lawyer who went on to become Texas attorney general, secretary of state and chief justice of the state supreme court, died today of a heart condition. He was 83.

A 1947 graduate of the University of Texas School of Law, Hill seemingly fulfilled every major career goal except one. He twice ran unsuccessfully for state governor in the 1960s and 1970s, but moved on philosophically with his life after he became, in 1978, the first Democrat to win the primary yet lose the election to a Republican (Bill Clements) in 100 years, reports the Houston Chronicle. "It was a letdown at the time, but I've always accepted it as God's will in my life," Hill said afterward.

Hill became a renowned plaintiffs trial lawyer in the early 1960s, winning the then-stunning sum of $11.5 million in two airline crash cases. He had a way with a jury—and would memorize the names of all prospective members of the panel at the outset, so he could address them by name from the beginning of the case, opponents recall. His down-home style of speech was also memorable, the Chronicle recounts. "They say she wasn't badly injured," Hill told the jury in one winning argument, after an insurance company tried to pooh-pooh his client's damages. "But they Demeroled her at 9 o'clock, Nembutaled her at 10 and Thorazened her at 11. Now, is that serious?"

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