He survived a close encounter with a shark, the crash-landing of a glider he was riding in and the 1992 shootings in a Tarrant County courthouse — not to mention World War II.
But former 2nd Court of Appeals Judge Hal M. Lattimore, who followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather who had themselves been jurists, could not escape death forever. Judge Lattimore, 93, died Thursday of congestive heart failure at his home with his family at his side.
Those who knew him best say there were two sides to him. One was his love of the law. The other was a sense of adventure. In both he was always willing to help anybody who he thought needed it. And in both, he never backed down from a challenge.
“If Hal wanted to do it, if he had a passing fancy for it, he gave it everything he had and didn’t stop until he was the best you could possibly be at it,” said 2nd Court of Appeals Judge Bill Meier, who said that Judge Lattimore was one of the first lawyers he met when he moved to Tarrant County in 1969.
In 1973, in his first year as a state senator, Meier, by then a law partner of Judge Lattimore’s, recommended that Gov. Dolph Briscoe appoint Judge Lattimore to fill a vacancy on the 96th state District Court bench — the same one that Judge Lattimore’s father had held.
Judge Lattimore felt at home whether below the surface of the sea or above the clouds in the sky. After a 1978 Star-Telegram article in which he told the story of coming face to face with a hammerhead estimated at 14 feet long and 1,000 pounds and how, rather than swim away, he charged at it, courthouse colleagues hung a photo of him inscribed with the words, “WHO ELSE could scare a shark?”
Judge Lattimore was born Oct. 13, 1920, in Fort Worth to Judge Hal. S. Lattimore and Kate McKnight Lattimore. After graduating from high school, he headed for Baylor University. While there he earned his pilot’s license in anticipation of what would become World War II.
During the war he flew transport planes. Afterward he resumed his studies at the University of Texas at Austin, where he earned his law degree. In college, he was a champion fencer, helped found a chapter of the honorary legal fraternity Phi Alpha Delta and served as a flying instructor for a university club.
He practiced law with his father from 1948 until the senior Lattimore’s death in 1969.
State District Judge David L. Evans, presiding judge of the 8th Administrative Judicial Region, credited Judge Lattimore, his uncle, with helping him through law school and his early years as a lawyer.
“Hal was tremendous influence on my life, and I owe a great deal of any success I have had to him,” Evans said Saturday. “He was more than an uncle; he was mentor and a friend.”
On July 1, 1992, Judge Lattimore, by then a member of the 2nd Court of Appeals, was in his chambers when a gunman opened fire at the bench, killing two lawyers and wounding two other members of the court. A third lawyer was also shot.
A soaring personality
Judge Lattimore loved the outdoors and would make his own tents on camping and hunting trips, his son Michael Lattimore said. He helped found the Southwest Council of Diving Clubs and served as its first president, but flying, whether in a motorized plane or a glider, remained his first passion.
After decades of membership, leadership and participation, Judge Lattimore was honored by the Soaring Association of America with the creation of the Hal M. Lattimore Trophy, presented each year.
Michael Lattimore said Saturday that he couldn’t recall ever hearing his father curse. “He acted the way you were expected to act,” he said.
That extended to his willingness to help others. Meier said Judge Lattimore was the only lawyer he ever knew who didn’t mail out invoices. Instead, he waited for clients to realize they hadn’t paid.
“He once said that as a lawyer you have to make yourself available to the people who need you,” Michael Lattimore said. “There was no fee schedule with him. He sized you up, and if he thought you were really trying, by God he would come out with all guns blazing.”
Judge Lattimore’s survivors also include his wife of 64 years, Virginia Hill Lattimore; a daughter, Mary Elizabeth Lattimore; a sister, Mary Kay Evans; four grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews.