The Campaign For DA


The Passing Of An Infamous* Wise County Lawyer

I've learned Stephen Hale has died. It happened in his sleep. It's odd to think that I saw him in court just a few days ago.  I always liked Stephen because he was a cordial, soft spoken, and bald-headed hippy who didn't really care what others thought. 

For those who don't know, he became the subject of controversy that spread all the way to the metroplex when he refused to prosecute misdemeanor marijuana cases while serving as the Wise County Attorney.  That was pretty bold. He would get a case, the evidence supported marijuana possession, there's a law against marijuana possession, and he killed the case based upon principle because he thought it was a stupid law. And this was in the 1990s in Wise County! The press loved this story. He had a front page article on the Dallas Morning News, was a feature story in the Dallas Observer, and was even on The Mark Davis Radio Show (how I would love to hear that.) He pissed off local law enforcement and eventually lost re-election only by a small margin. (Oh, how times have changed. He ran as a Democrat when Wise County hadn't figured out it was a Republican county, so the straight ticket Democratic voting almost put him back in office in the most conservative of Texas counties.)

Here's the Dallas Observer story

He later ran for DA in Denton County and stood no chance of winning. Loved this quote from him in the article below: "It's hard building a constituency of old stoners."  But it didn't help that he pled guilty to marijuana possession two weeks before the election and received probation. It seems that local cops and Denton law enforcement ran a sting operation on Hale and arrested him for buying marijuana from an informant. I was DA in Wise County at the time and wrote this about it. (I went back and read it and I love my tone: It's wrong for the cops to target people they don't like but I couldn't say that at the time.)

He left the area after the election and practiced law in Galveston for a while.  He then moved to Alaska although I'm not sure what he did up there. Then some time last year, he showed up back in town and opened up a law office.  I have no idea why.  He took a lot of court appointments and seemed happy. His hippy tendencies still stuck around as he showed up in a hoodie for district court a couple of times. That is, until he started showing up in coat and tie -- I'm guessing someone in authority told him the hoodie wasn't going to cut it.

One cold day, in a courthouse hallway, he was wearing the craziest hooded fur jacket you have ever seen. It was massive. It was ridiculous. It looked like he could survive the Iditarod in that thing. He told me that it was made out of the coats of five wolves which were killed when his horses trampled them in Alaska. My eyes got big. I regret not exploring that story with him because I was simply busy and had clients waiting on me. I can always find out later, right?

And now that chance is gone because he is gone.  An elected official. Crazy civil disobedience from inside the belly of the machine. An arrest.  Another election. Galveston. Alaska. Wolves. And that's just what I know about.  That's a pretty entertaining life.
* A couple of comments took me to task for using the word "infamous". I've always considered infamous to mean a person being somewhat well known for an unusual reason, normally controversial, which caused people to notice him. In looking up the textbook definition, it truly is a lot harsher than it is sometimes used these days. However, I guess some truly did consider him in that light. 


Anonymous said...

yep. I agree

Anonymous said...

Oh, Dusty. IN-famous means more than famous.

- DF Lucky Day

Wurdkyle said...

I have a handful of friends on Facebook that are expressing their sorrow at his passing, but I had no idea who he was.

Thanks for writing this, Barry. I just went back to see who all on my friends list it was that are memorializing him. Turns out it was all the stoners! (best, nicest, most caring, and least judemental people I know, btw)

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear about Steve. I think the headline of infamous may be a little strong. Steve was unpretentious and was not a hypocrite. I think he gave his clients pretty good representation.... And so it goes.

Anonymous said...

Dead? How old was he?

Anonymous said...

Crazy civil disobedience from inside the belly of the machine.

Perhaps one of the best sentences you have ever written.


RPM said...

What a shame Steve was a nice guy. He was a good lawyer, too.

Anonymous said...

Excellent points, all of them. And, the marijuana laws v the alcohol laws is just plain crazy. Seriously, which one has killed more people and ruined more lives?

Anonymous said...

You can describe, with the best of them, the definition on "murder".

But couldn't piss a drop when asked why he shouldn't prosecute dope cases.

Anonymous said...

Using 2:37's logic we should legalize heroin. And incest. And burglary.

Anonymous said...

Using 3:33's logic we should criminalize anything that is mind or body altering like alcohol. And tobacco. And caffeine. And sugar.

Anonymous said...

Yes, 237. I agree. And Steve was honest, kind, and completely open. He practiced what he preached and lived an honest life of his commitment, enjoying it as he went.

Bear said...


Because heroin, incest and burglary never harmed anyone?

Bear said...

Also, infamous means being famous for something bad. What bad thing was he famous for BG?

Anonymous said...

And others in county government really missed him when they got to know his replacement.

Anonymous said...

Hey Bear - read 2:37 and 3:33 again. Have someone help with any words or phrases that confuse you. Homework: think about both posts and pose an intelligent question or thought. Extra credit: work in a group with 3:55 to discuss whether or not 3:33 was being sarcastic, ironic, a smartass, all of the above, or none of the above. Good luck to you. Oh, and "infamous" in this case means that others though what he did re: marijuana cases was shocking. The reader is left to his own thoughts as to whether or not what he did was "bad".

Anonymous said...

Wordkyle along in 3,2,1 to tell us how bad weed is.

Methinks Wordy puts the wrong thing in that pipe of his.

Anonymous said...

Too bad about Steve. He was a good guy.

Another of Steve's supporters in his stand against prosecuting the marijuana cases was none other than William F. Buckley, the founder and editor of National Review magazine. If I recall correctly, the two exchanged letters on the subject.

RIP Steve.

Anonymous said...

Crazy civil disobedience from inside the belly of the machine.

Perfect description of the last 2 Presidential Administrations: Bush & Obama

Bear said...


As an anonymous ass, you have a lot of room to talk. If the people are being sarcastic, I missed the sarcastic font. If they are being honest, I was agreeing with them. And i did not know that infamous had two different meanings.

Stop being a douche and contribute to the discussion instead of attacking others for trying to participate.

Again, you are an idiot and ass.

Anonymous said...

I was so shocked and saddened to hear about Stephen. He was my second County Attorney to work for...he was a great boss and I am so glad he came to see me when I retired in December. I quit not long after he took office back then thinking I wanted to be in the private sector...that didn't work out for me and he hired me back, I certainly didn't deserve it. But I wouldn't have had the privilege of retiring had it not been for this wonderful man, and I am so thankful I got the chance to tell him that in December.

No, he made no friends in law enforcement in those days, but you couldn't help but like him. He was kind with no shred of arrogance in him at all and through the years and all life's adventures, he didn't change at all. He was simply a joy to work with and for.

Not only did he not prosecute marijuana cases, but he had the guts to say no more CPS cases will be handled by his office. We simply didn't have the staff to keep up with all the compliance laws that come with those cases. The Attorney General's Office has been representing them since that time. I thought it was a genius move.

I didn't always agree with him, but that was okay with him, he never treated me any different because I disagreed with him but I was married to a trooper at the time and he thought it was crazy that he didn't prosecute any of the marijuana cases no matter what the facts were or how long the defendant's criminal history was...but I guarantee you he liked him as a person, I don't know very many people that didn't.

Now that I'm retired, I probably wouldn't have seen him much again, if at all...but I know the wonderful people I worked with and for since that time, who are still there, and I know they are going to miss him, we were all happy he was back in Decatur.

As an Office Manager for years, I always shared one Stephen Hale story with my girls as a way to show them that every time there is a newly elected County Attorney, it was up to him or her to keep the present staff or let all or part of them go and they needed to always be kind and professional to all the attorneys we worked with, because one of them could be your next boss. When Stephen was elected, he let one lady go simply because she was rude to him when he was in private practice and came to the County Attorney's Office...a great lesson for a young woman at that time and I shared that with all my girls through the years.

He was definitely one of a kind. He will be missed. Rest in Peace, Stephen.

Anonymous said...

His obit in the Messenger showed he was survived by a best friend who lives in Alvord. Her facebook page reveals her teen daughter was killed a the wreck on 287 in 2012.