David Hall

Directed the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid for 42 years after starting his career with the United Farm Workers (UFW) in the Rio Grande Valley. National leader on migrant labor issues.

David Hall stylized graphic.

Person details

Where most active professionally: Rural America and Texas
Law type: Civil and Criminal
Lists: In Memoriam
Source: CNEJL
Date deceased: Oct 11, 2023


https://blog.texasbar.com/2017/07/articles/pro-bono/longtime-texas-riogrande-legal-aid-leader-to-retire/ Texas RioGrande Legal Aid Executive Director David Hall will retire from his position after 42 years at the helm, the organization announced Wednesday. “It has been my honor and privilege to work alongside colleagues and friends with such inspiring values, compassion, and dedication for justice,” Hall said in a statement to staff announcing his decision. “Siga la lucha.” The Texas RioGrande Legal Aid Board of Directors plans to form a hiring committee to conduct a nationwide search for Hall’s successor, who will lead the nonprofit that provides free legal services to Southwest Texas residents who are unable to afford them. “David and the people (has led) at TRLA are legendary in Texas colonias, barrios, and poor neighborhoods for their aggressive, fearless, first-rate lawyering for the most impoverished and oppressed Texans,” said John Henneberger, an affordable housing expert, in the organization’s statement. “He’s never shied away from a fight. He has cut a broad swath in Texas for longer than almost anyone else has been doing social justice work.” Before joining TRLA in 1975, Hall was director of the South Texas Project of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation and a staff attorney for the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee. He was featured in the Texas Legal Legends project, created by 2008-2009 State Bar President Harper Estes to share the perspectives and stories of legendary Texas lawyers.

What others say

Watch a video of an interview with David Hall on the Legal Legends page of the Texas Bar Association (scroll down to find him).

Obituary from the Austin American Statesman

Published Oct. 21, 2023

David Gray Hall, a Texas legal legend who devoted his career to social justice, died on October 11, 2023, one month shy of his 82nd birthday. Upon hearing his signature baritone drawl, folks often asked him where he was from, and he would declare, “Texas – clear back, both sides.” And it was true. On his mother’s side, he descended from Reuben Hornsby, who in 1832 served as Stephen F. Austin’s land surveyor in what would later become Travis County.

David loved Texas so much that he made the bold, early choice to devote his entire career to making it better. And for more than 40 years, he accomplished this as director of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA), which is based in his beloved Rio Grande Valley.

While he never took himself too seriously, David was serious about his work, and his legal successes were legend. In 1978, he ascended the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court – in suit pants ripped getting out of the taxi, no less – to successfully convince five justices that Mexican Americans were being unlawfully excluded from grand jury service in a county that was 80 percent Latino. In an injunction case, he approached a federal judge mowing his yard in Brownsville and asked him to sign a temporary restraining order, which the judge reviewed while David finished the mowing.

TRLA’s many achievements under David’s watch included the state’s first non-profit public defender services, medical-legal partnerships in hospitals, pro se clinics throughout border counties, colonia infrastructure improvements, enhanced access to the polls and support for candidates of choice for the poor, partnerships with domestic violence shelters, transnational litigation involving parental custody disputes, and representation for children who were jailed by immigration authorities, among countless others.

David didn’t care much about awards, but he nonetheless received many career accolades, including being recognized by Texas Lawyer in 2000 as one of the state’s 100 greatest lawyers in the previous century. With disarming charm and a mischievous twinkle often in his eyes, he proved a fearless, tenacious battler for the oppressed who had many admirers and more than a few detractors, who labeled him a socialist or a rabble-rouser and – when they were really being mean – a “wannabe Yankee.” In a case involving migrant farmworkers, Dimmit County’s then-sheriff said TRLA posed a problem because “it was telling them about the federal laws and everything.” David relished that comment and made it a permanent part of the TRLA brand.

David accomplished this all through jovial storytelling and an abiding hospitality that drew countless brilliant young lawyers to TRLA for decades. In urging them to pass up the fancy firms and relocate to not-so-glamorous parts of Texas, he knew one way to their hearts was via their stomachs, so he plied them with homemade paella, chipotle fajitas, cabrito, and huachinango al mojo de ajo, not to mention beer and peaty whiskeys. He and his wife, Pamela, also subjected them to his ever-changing Dr. Dolittle menagerie, which included Golden Retrievers, cats, a Madagascar gecko, a goat, parrots, chickens, ducks, fish, and one infamous pot-bellied pig.

Thanks to David’s guidance and encouragement, many of these young lawyers would go on to devote their careers to seeking social justice in courts and corridors of power across the country. They have become judges, lawmakers, mayors, law school deans, district attorneys, statewide political candidates, and more. Even after his 2018 retirement as director, David continued to consult with TRLA, mentoring the lawyers representing asylum seekers jailed for misdemeanor trespass offenses in the notorious Operation Lone Star. His legacy lives on in them all.

David was born on November 10, 1941, and raised in Baytown, Texas, by his parents, Ike David Hall, an Exxon executive, and Nanene Gilbert Hall, a schoolteacher. After high school, David went to the University of Texas at Austin and served as a Silver Spur. He forever lamented that on his watch as a Spur, those damn Aggies stole Bevo, UT’s famous Longhorn mascot. He got Bevo back by enlisting the Texas Rangers and threatening to charge the Aggies with cattle rustling. David also was a UT Goodfellow, which recognized students for service and personality. His parents forever wondered how 1960s UT transformed their conservative, Baptist-raised son into the fierce progressive he became and would remain, but they continued to adore him anyway.

David then joined the UT School of Law in 1966 but took a two-year break to serve with his first wife, Allison, in the Peace Corps in Venezuela. In Caracas in 1967, they had the first of two daughters, Allison Kelly, followed by Lynn Gray in Baytown in 1969. After law school, David began work in the Valley in 1970 as an attorney for the United Farm Workers Union and then the ACLU before taking the helm at TRLA.

“David’s consistency and determination in the pursuit of the cause of justice is an enduring legacy,” said David Richards, a leading Texas civil rights lawyer and longtime friend. “The fact that he could at the same time maintain a sense of humor about the vagaries of the world around him is equally remarkable.”

David was backed by a strong, loving, lively family, including his wife of nearly 27 years, Pamela Brown, an accomplished public interest attorney who shared his passion for social justice. In addition to being David’s advocate, advisor, and muse, Pamela was his fellow adventurer who once bravely accompanied him on a newly acquired sailboat across the Gulf of Mexico. Together they traveled to Scotland, Portugal, other parts of Europe, and deep into Mexico, as well as enjoyed visits with their exchange student daughter, Cigdem Mirrikhi, in Turkey and Pamela’s Tica family, the Solano Rivas’, in Costa Rica. They were married in November 1996, and she was by his side at his peaceful death.