Thursday, October 1, 2020

Mike Hinton

 The world is a little darker tonight due to the passing of legendary defense attorney, former prosecutor, and friend Mike Hinton.

I've looked through all of my photos hoping to find one of me and the first man who gave me a job in the legal profession, and sadly I couldn't find one.  For those of you who knew Mike, it is understandable that I don't have a picture with him because he never sat still long enough for me to take one.

The phrase "to know him was to love him" is often said on the occasion of a person's passing, but I can't think of anyone more worthy of the phrase than Mike Hinton.  Everyone who met him simply loved him.  He didn't really give you much of an option to do otherwise.  He was a short, roly-poly man with an exuberance for simply existing.  He was perpetually happy and happy to see you.  Hugs, cheek kisses, over-the-top greetings followed by sincere conversations punctuated with his staccato exclamations and his deep laughs were Hinton trademarks.

If Mike had been a Star Wars character, he would have been Baby Yoda because literally everyone loved Mike.

But his over-the-top, buoyant personality cleverly hid an extremely formidable trial lawyer who was a very major character in the Harris County Criminal Justice world.  He was Mike "Machine Gun" Hinton to those who knew him in the 70s and 80s when he was the Special Crimes prosecutor under District Attorneys Carol Vance and Johnny Holmes.  The cases he tried were legendary.  The stories of him were legendary as well.

His most famous case from those days was the prosecution of Ronald Clark O'Bryan, the infamous murderer who ruined Halloween by putting cyanide in his own son's Pixy Sticks to collect insurance money.  Years ago, when Todd Dupont and I hosted HCCLA's Reasonable Doubt, Mike agreed to come on the show to talk about the case for our Halloween episode.  As always, he was fascinating and his memory of the case kept us all entranced as he took us back through the horrible case.

When he left the Office, he formed a partnership with the late Johnny Pizzitola and the late Bob Sussman.  That firm would evolve over the years but the reputation it held in all of its forms was always golden.   Through State and Federal Courts across Texas, the names of Mike Hinton and the attorneys he partnered with meant something.  What it usually meant to prosecutors was that they were about to get their butts kicked.

In the summer of 1997, I was between my first and second years of law school when I was introduced to Mike Hinton by a family friend.  Mike immediately gave me a clerkship for that summer, which was a good thing seeing as how I was clueless that a clerkship was something that most law students were supposed to do between their first and second years of schooling.  Mike told me that he'd pay me $15 an hour, which was far and away the most money my happy ass had ever made in my lifetime.  I remember calling my dad to tell him how much I was making and he noted, "Damn, son, I was paying you $8 an hour here at the printing company, and I didn't even think you were worth that!"

I don't think I really had an inkling of what a career in criminal law would be like before that summer.  I was young and just trying to manage law school, which was proving to be enough a challenge as it was. Suddenly, I had this high dollar job courtesy of a man who was legendary in the field.  The firm then was Hinton, Sussman, [Joe] Bailey & [Charley] Davidson, and I spent the majority of the time working with Bob and Joe on a death penalty capital (where I would first be introduced to Kelly Siegler and Vic Wisner).

Although I spent most of the time working for Bob and Joe, the atmosphere at HSB&D was wildly entertaining.  At the center of it was the whirlwind of Mike Hinton.  He buzzed in and out of the office talking ninety miles per hour and it drew everyone out of their offices just to be entertained with whatever stories he had experienced that day.   I could write a book about the short months that I spent there and the funny things that happened -- my favorite remains when Mike bailed out of his new car on Memorial Drive because he didn't know that such new-fangled things as seat heaters existed and he was sure his car was on fire.

But on a more serious note, the lessons I learned from Mike (and every other member of the firm) those short months were ones that I carried with me every day since that summer.  The first and foremost thing that they taught me was that everyone in the Harris County Criminal Justice Center world that we come in and out of every day is family.  From the Judge to the Prosecutor to the Coordinator to the Clerk to the CLO to the peon law clerk just there for the summer  -- all were treated like dear friends.  They stopped and talked to everyone.  Mike knew everyone's name and pretty much all of their families' names.  He walked through there like a man on a mission to converse with as many people as possible as he could.

He was humble and self-effacing.  Nobody thought Mike's zany stories (that often ended at something embarrassing to him) were funnier than Mike, himself.  He was one of those guys who quite frequently couldn't get through a story without laughing because he already knew how it would end.  I've never seen anyone pull off hyperactivity so endearingly.  

Mike had a fierce pride for the time he spent as an Assistant District Attorney for Harris County.  As far as he was concerned, the Office was hallowed ground that produced the finest trial lawyers in the State, Country, and World.  That was a sentiment shared by Bob, Joe, and Charley, as well, and it was instilled in those of us who wanted to someday be prosecutors.  While some former prosecutors who became defense lawyers were quick to condemn the Office once they left or talk of their time there as a necessary evil on the way to becoming true-believing members of the Defense Bar,  that was never the sentiment at Hinton, Sussman, Bailey and Davidson.  Although their time there had passed, they all spoke of it with pride and fondness.

That's something that I carried with me during my time at the Office and the time since I left, and I learned it from Mike Hinton.  He introduced me to the Harris County Criminal Justice System and the people I've come to know and love in the 23 years (and counting) since that summer.

But by far, the most endearing trait of Mike Hinton's was the pride he took in all of those who passed through that office.  From the clerk who became a lawyer to the lawyer who became a judge, he viewed us all as part of his legacy and he never failed to show how happy that made him.  From the regular HSB&D Clerk Reunions at Vincent's and Nino's to him just seeing us in court and grinning from ear to ear as he came to talk to us about a case he had with us.  I remember being a baby prosecutor and him seeing me in court and running up, hugging me, and saying: "Murray, I'm just so g*ddamn proud of you."

There were so many clerks that came through that office under his tutelage.  The vast majority of them had far longer stays at the office than me, but we all share that common bond of having found our starts at Hinton, Sussman, Bailey and Davidson.  The pride that Mike had in us was nothing compared to the pride we had in having started out under his wing.  

Although my time there was short, I will always carry with me the lessons learned from this sweet, dear, crazy crazy man. To be a descendant of Michael John Hinton's courthouse legacy is something that I always have and always will be very proud of.

P.S.  If you have a favorite story (that is printable) about Uncle Mike, please share it in the comments.  There are so many outstanding tales that need to live on.


Shirley cornelius said...

This may be just lore but I have heard from several sources about Mike’s closing argument as a prosecutor in an obscenity case involving the F word.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. Fuck you. And if you don’t find that offensive, then fuck you.

Then he sat down.

Andy Williams said...

This is terrible news. I clerked for Mike and Bob and Joe in the summers of 1987 and 1988. I can honestly say those summers were the most fun I ever had working in the law. Many times I watched Mike running between a meeting in his office, another meeting in his conference room and a third set of clients in the waiting area,apologizing to each of them a hundred miles an hour and inevitably running off to the next client saying, "You know...I just love you!" Rest in peace, Uncle Mike, though the thought of you at rest sure is hard to grasp.

Eric Morehead said...

I think the most important thing I learned from that man was how to be a better human. Laugh a little bit, care a little bit, and realize the word "counselor" is printed on that ticket along with "attorney". I don't practice criminal law anymore, but I draw on those experiences -- and what I learned from Mike, Bob, Joe and Charley -- every day. And it wasn't just about the law, it was about living.

Eric Morehead said...

Oh! I forgot a Mike story. One evening we were sitting in his office with our client as Mike and I listened intently to our client walk through his alibi. The alleged crime had taken place at 3AM. The client related that he was at a massage parlor at the time of the offense. After the client leaves, Mike leans back in his chair, puffs on one of his Merits and says "I don't hate his story, but why would someone get a massage at that time of day?"

Murray Newman said...

There are so many different Mike stories that I've either witnessed or heard over the years. Shortly after my time at HSB&D ended, my then-girlfriend, later-wife, current-ex-wife and I were really interested in the Robert Angleton Capital Murder trial (AKA the River Oaks bookie). I was still in law school, but in the afternoons, she and I would go watch the trial.

Mike had represented Angleton on a previous matter of some sort, and somehow ended up getting called as a witness. He obviously took the matter very seriously, but he couldn't help but be social with everyone in the courtroom. He also seemed very uncomfortable at the idea of being on the stand instead of being the guy asking the questions.

The trial was in front of Brian Rains in the 176th at the old courthouse, and I remember the witnes stand was had four sides with rails on it, so when Mike took the stand, it appeared that he had been trapped in a box. As usual, he couldn't sit still, and as he answered questions, he tended to bounce from one side of the box to the other, staring wide-eyed at whoever was questioning him with deep concentration. Half the time, he would lean forward with his arms dangling over the front rail like he was being quizzed on a game show.

It was so comical, that to this day, I can't remember a damn thing he testified to, because I was laughing too hard at his body language.

Tom said...

I first met Mike when I was a reporter for the Chronicle in the early 1970s. That seems so long ago now.
Anyhow, the best Mike Hinton story I ever heard was when he was an assistant DA in Amarillo. His office was right across the hall from the elected DA's office. One day, he was playing with a new .357 magnum he had bought and showing it to someone in his office. Suddenly, there was an accidental discharge.
The bullet went across his office, through the door, across the hall and through the DA's door. Mike and his visitor rushed to the DA's office and found the DA in his chair shaking with a bullet in the wall about six inches over his head.

Wes Rucker said...

I spent all of law school as a clerk for Hinton, Sussman, Bailey & Davidson. It was an absolute trip and such an incredible experience to be with Mike. I have never seen such a tenacious and hard-working man who was NEVER rude or mean. It is an extraordinary and rare combination. Mike was sharp and bright even until he physically could not get to the courthouse. He continued to practice because he loved the work and the people. He had zero interest in retiring.
A few years ago, Mike and Joe were gracious enough to let me office with them. Having an office next to Mike is pure comedy. He would take every call on speaker and the things that came out of his mouth were so silly but so sincere. Recently, a reporter from New Zealand was doing a story on Mike and the pixie stick murder. The call was on speaker and about 10 minutes in Mike stopped the conversation and said, “you know, us Americans really do love Australians.” Mike’s interns were actively listening by his door and burst into tears.
My favorite memories of Mike are riding to lunch with him and Joe. I was always in the backseat and would listen to Joe and Mike argue like an old married couple. My stomach would be sore from laughter. On one occasion Mike and Joe were hand fighting over the A/C. Joe kept trying to turn on the heat and Mike would repeatedly slap his hand away and protest, “you are turning my car into a cylinder of death!”.
The office has been so lonely over the past year with Mike not up here. I keep waiting for him to walk in the door and hear his roaring laugh. He will be missed!

Anonymous said...

Tom, the other pistol story I heard is that when he was put on the original special crimes bureau he was issued a .38 revolver -- but they refused to provide him any bullets.

Unknown said...

Kelly Thompson Weeks: I clerked for Mike when the firm was Pizzitola,Hinton and Sussman in summer of 1986. I actually worked for all 3 of them. I remember flying with him to austin on a client' i had been working on with him and being on aoutwest airlines amd him regaling me with stories.he and johnny and bob let me try a misdemeanor case with one of them sitting 2nd chair(I can't remember which of th sat with me but i obtaoned a not guilty. They threw me a going a going away party nefore I returned to texas tech law school at mike's house and Mike presented me with a framed copy of the verdict
The above article so aptly describes him.Because of he,johnny and bob, i became a prosecutor for 16 years amd then a defense attorney since then. As a defense attorney, prosecutors, judges and clerks were all my friends. I never treated them as an us vs. Them mentality thanls tp mike, bob's and johnny's teachings. Loved Mike so much. Thank goodness i was able to see him for lunch anout a year ago with my husband, dabid weeks and joe bailey. We talked about old times when i was a law clerk amd funny things that happened on cases
Unfortunately not going to be there for the funeral since I am currently in Virginia.

Unknown said...

David Weeks:I met Mike when I was an Assistant District attorney in Grimes Cointy in 1982 or 1983. We have been friend since then and periodically called each other to check on each other not just to talk about cases.As the chief of the special prosecution, i was appointed as special prosecutor on a case matagorda county.he was a great defense attorney.Later whem I became walker county D.A., I worked with him on cases where he was the defense attorney. He was a great trial lawyer and a helluva a guy. I loved him dearly
Also because of our mutual love 0f the late Ernie Ernst.

Barry Gaines said...

I’ll never forget meeting Mike Hinton for the first time. I was about 8 years old and my younger sister and I were waiting up to say good night to our dad who was, as usual, getting ready for trial. Mike came bursting into our house in Beaumont at about 9:30 p.m. on a school night. He greeted us with an exuberant, “Hi girls! I’m your Uncle Mike!” He was already doing pushups in front of our television and asking my mom if he could take us to get ice cream when my dad finally walked through the door. My sister and I were in complete shock and awe as my mom laughed at Mike and sent us to bed. We had never met anyone like Uncle Mike; we loved him immediately. He became part of our family while he and my dad spent the next several months representing co-defendants in a RICO trial in Beaumont.
About 20 years later when I was a prosecutor in Montgomery County, Uncle Mike (who had steered me toward the job in the first place), came up to tell me goodbye as he was leaving the courtroom during a very busy docket. I was standing at the bench in the middle of doing pleas, but he still kissed me on the cheek, told me how great it was to see me so happy, and said hello to the Judge. Rather than being irritated that he had interrupted the proceedings, she laughed and told him how glad she was to see him in her courtroom. Everyone loved Mike. I’ve still never met anyone like him. He was one of a kind.

Thorhees21 said...

Several years after leaving the DA's Office, I had heart bypass surgery. One of the first to visit me in the hospital following surgery (besides my family) was Mike Hinton bringing flowers, funny stories, lots of encouragement and good cheer. I will miss the man.

granky2 said...

Sad, sad, news. I have known Mike since the 70's when I was in homicide. One of my favorite prosecutors, always willing to help, always pleasant and his energy was contagious. RIP Mikey.

Anonymous said...

He was a nice man and always a gentlemen. 2020 continues to really suck

Anonymous said...

Mike assisted Judge Gist's criminal trial classes at STCL.

really took his time to make sure everyone understood many of the nuances of the process.

Gave his time freely to ensure it was passed down.

A rare commodity these days.

Mark Burtner said...

Mark Burtner
I was an Intern in Special Crimes in 1983,84, and 85. In 1985 before I passed the Bar, I sat second (w/a Bar Card) with Joe Bailey while he prosecuted the President of an oil company who was represented by Mike Hinton and Johnny Pizzitola. It was a week long trial and I learned more about being a trial lawyer than 3 years of Law School taught me. At the end of the trial I knew I wanted to be a trial lawyer, just like them. They were all smart as whips and they were the best of friends. Mike told the voir dire panel that he and Joe were close friends and during the trial they might pat each other on the shoulder or demonstrate they were friends because they were. I was struck by the fact that they all took such care to point out what was going on in the trial to me. The subtle things I missed. They wanted to help me be a better lawyer by seeing and appreciating what happening. It was a great experience and motivated me to work hard on my craft. It also taught me to always help the younger lawyers. I always try to point out the subtle things to the young lawyers so they will improve their craft. Just like Joe, Mike and Johnny helped me. I never forgot it was important to them that I understood that being a lawyer was a profession and one where you could have fun with your friends. Mike and Johnny always came up and spoke to me while I practiced in Harris County like I was a friend. You couldn't spend a week with those guys without bein a friend. They were a class act. R.I.P Mike

Mark Burtner said...

Mark Burtner
I was an intern in Special Crimes in 1983,84,and 85. In 1985 I sat second with Joe Bailey while he tried an embezzlement case against the president of an oil company who was represented by Mike Hinton and Johnny Pizzitola. It was a week long trial and it was like going on a camping with those three. They liked each other, they knew each other and they had fun together. Mike told the voir dire panel that he and Joe were friends. He said during the trial they might pat each others shoulder or act like they were friends because they were. Meanwhile Joe and Mike were beating each other with verbal clubs. I never forgot the care they took to explain to me what was going on. The subtle things, the why they were doing what they were doing. They wanted me to benefit from the opportunity of being involved in the process. After the trial Mike and Johnny were never in a room without coming over to me and greeting me as a friend and colleague. It was impossible to spend a week with those and not feel like they were friends. I have always tried to treat the younger members of the Bar like those three treated me. They were a class act and wonderful examples of what ever Attorney should strive to be. R.I.P. Mike and Johnny

The Contested Primaries 2024

In addition to the extremely heated battle for Harris County District Attorney, there are only a handful of other races within the Criminal ...