Harlin DeWayne ‘Cooter’ Hale served as a bankruptcy judge for 20 years
Harlin DeWayne “Cooter” Hale grew up in St. Joseph, a frontier town in eastern Louisiana.
The population was then about 2,000.
One day in third grade, Hale missed school because he was sick. In the afternoon, he felt better and his father, a cotton farmer, offered to take him to attend a criminal trial at the courthouse. The case involved a few hunters, some known to Hale’s father, who had been robbed during a poker game at their hunting camp. There weren’t many trials at St. Joseph, the parish seat, so Hale agreed to go.
“I thought it was a bit unbelievable,” he says. “So I always had that in mind, that it’s something I would love to do.”
He lived in St. Joseph until he graduated from high school, then attended Louisiana State University. Hale was no stranger to Baton Rouge or Tiger Stadium, where his parents had season tickets since 1966.
After earning her undergraduate degree, Hale continued her education at LSU for law school, graduating in 1982. Her first job was clerking for James L. Dennis, then Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Louisiana and now a judge on the Fifth Circuit Court of the United States. Calls.
Hale moved to Dallas and worked at Strasburger & Price. He and his wife, Claire, lived in the Village for a short time, then in 1984 moved to Lakewood, where they still reside. Their two sons — one now a nursing student and Air Force Reservist, and the other a journalist in Indiana — attended Lakewood Elementary, JL Long Middle School, and Woodrow Wilson High School.
In 2002, Hale was appointed to the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Texas, and he retired this spring. When the National Rifle Association tried to file for bankruptcy protection and reorganize in Texas, it was Hale’s decision to drop the case in 2021. He also presided over cases involving Tuesday Morning and Vitro, a manufacturer of glass that produced windshields for GM cars and bottles for Skyy. Vodka.
Hale says he plans to continue as a professor at Southern Methodist University, where he has taught a course called “creditors’ rights” since 2009. In addition, he occasionally mediates for bankruptcy court.
Photograph by Sylvia Elzafon.
What was it like growing up in such a small town?
It was very fun. Everyone knows everyone, or you are related to most people. But all the teachers know you very well. My CM1 teacher was also my father’s CM1 teacher. It’s that kind of thing, where you have a lot of continuity. It was fun. you have to go out out of town to do anything, go to the cinema, go out to eat. We have a lake in town, so the kids spend a lot of time on the lake, swimming or skiing.
WHAT IS THE BANKRUPTCY LAW CALLING YOU?
The bankruptcy code came into effect in 1979 when I started law school, and one of my sophomore teachers said, hey, this is brand new. This is something you might be interested in. I took the course and did very well. At that time, and they still do, when firms came to interview young people in law school so that they could come and work during the summer. Strasburger & Price was one of only two Dallas companies to come to LSU for an interview. And I took a summer job at Strasburger and started working in their bankruptcy department. It would have been the summer of 81. Really liked it.
DO YOU THINK YOU ARE A DIFFICULT TEACHER?
I think I’m really easy going, to be honest with you. I try to be nice in class. We let some students down. It hurts me to death to do this. But if you fail my class, you really deserve to fail. But no, I think I’m pretty easy. I had 1,200 students.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE NRA CASE?
It was a real tough case. They are assigned randomly. You know, you don’t get it because you want it. There are three of us here in Dallas, and it’s just randomized. It’s a tough case, probably the toughest case I’ve worked on. It was in the paper every day. So what happened each day was in the newspaper. And so you knew everyone was watching what you were doing. I tell my people who work for me, we actually get paid to do things right every day. It didn’t make me change things there, but there’s a lot of public scrutiny in this case, nationally. And the lawyers were very active. They filed things all the time. The trial as to whether the filing was a valid filing or not, took place during our WebEx/Zoom period. We had 200 people watching the trial on WebEx, and most hearings involved 10 to 12 lawyers. This was a 12 day trial. There were 600 exhibits, 23 witnesses. It was very, very stressful, but I have very good clerks and court staff working for me, and the lawyers have also done a wonderful job on this part to make everything go very well. It took two weeks to make the decision. That’s a lot of time for you to figure out what the right decision is and write it down.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF BEING A JUDGE?
Bankruptcy is often the last step. Individuals ran out of money for some reason. And they are about to lose their car or their house or their apartment. Trying to find a solution just to that. Sometimes we have to tell you, you have to leave your house. It’s the kind of cases that kept me awake more than the NRA or Vitro case. I don’t know what they do after me.