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.