Selden B. Hale III, son of a pioneer Northern Panhandle family, passed away on September 7, 2022, at the age of 84. Hale’s great-grandfather Melville Bond Wright settled permanently in the Texas Panhandle in the spring of 1877 after temporarily living there in 1872. His grandfather Selden B. Hale, from Indiana, settled in the original county seat town of Hansford shortly after 1900 and served as the first County Judge of Hansford County. Hale’s father, Selden B. Hale, Jr., a pharmacist, and he were both raised along the banks of the Palo Duro Creek in Hansford County. His mother, Pauline Owen Hale, came from a pioneer “Sooner” ranching family on the Washita River near Sayre, Oklahoma.
Born on December 7th, in Shattuck, OK in 1937, he attended schools in Spearman and Gruver, TX. He joined the United States Marine Corps in 1960 and served as an enlisted man in the Amarillo Reserve Unit on active and reserve duty. Hale worked for several years as a writer for the Amarillo Daily News until he graduated from West Texas State University in 1965. He entered St. Mary’s Law School in San Antonio, where he graduated with his Juris Doctorate in l967.
After a stint as counsel for Pioneer Natural Gas Company, he began his lifelong work as a lawyer for the ‘citizen accused.’ He tried cases in all the Panhandle Courthouses. He served as a Texas ACLU cooperating lawyer in the Panhandle, the most conservative part of Texas, dealing with the issues of free speech, death penalty, freedom of association and single member district political cases. Although a lifelong defense lawyer, he represented District Attorney, Tom Curtis and Judge Morris Overstreet, during “Potter Gate”, and represented dozens of Panhandle law officers during his practice, which lasted 50 years.
On one occasion, in the late Judge Sam Kiser’s Potter County court room, a large man accused of robbery, attacked and attempted to steal the bailiff’s gun, and Hale engaged in a fist fight over the weapon, and with the help of others, secured the attacking defendant. An old-fashioned, colorful lawyer with a booming bass voice, he often held juries spellbound.
Hale, a member of the State Bar of Texas, was admitted to the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States in 1985, over the dissent of two conservative Supreme Court Justices because of his introduction of police records in the murder case of an accused Black citizen. The Supreme Court later ruled that police had to share their records with defense attorneys and with the media.
At the beginning of Texas Governor Ann Richard’s administration, she appointed Hale Chairman of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, the first defense lawyer to hold this post. He and others were instrumental in the construction of state prison units including in Amarillo, Dalhart, Plainview, Pampa and Tulia, and the establishment of the first significant drug and alcohol treatment programs for prisoners. Hale was also instrumental in the development of the Texas Sentencing Standards Commission. His work on the Sentencing Commission, and with drug and alcohol programs, was designed to stop the huge influx of prisoners into Texas prisons. Those efforts were later stymied by Governor George W. Bush’s administration. Hale resigned his TDCJ chairmanship after becoming angry over a TDCJ board member’s financial association with a prison construction project, and with the advent and use of private, for-profit prisons by Texas.
Hale pushed the process of bringing TDCJ into compliance with federal constitutional law which resulted in the settlement of the famous long running Ruiz prison case. He insisted on the appointment of women wardens in TDCJ and relied on women legal advisors during the Ruiz negotiations in the federal court case before federal Judge William Wayne Justice. After leaving the TDCJ system, Hale continued to personally travel over the state training corrections and police officers in weapons employment and providing free ammunition and weapons for training with funds primarily provided by former Mayor Jerry Hodge.
Hale, with four other local officials, and with the help of his wife, Claudia Stravato, Chief of Staff to Lt. Governor Bob Bullock, secured the establishment of the Texas Tech School of Pharmacy in Amarillo with the hope that it would eventually help with the expansion of the Texas Tech Medical School and the entire medical center.
Hale and a small group of former marines worked with then Congressman Mack Thornberry to have the Veteran’s Administration rename the Amarillo VA Hospital in honor of Marine Thomas E. Creek, a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Creek, who had been raised on Amarillo’s north side of town, had never been adequately recognized for his sacrifice.
In his later years, Hale taught criminal justice courses and weapons courses for Amarillo College. A licensed law enforcement firearms instructor, he trained hundreds of prison officers, law enforcement personnel and military personnel, using grant money at no expense to state government. He established a Corrections Officer Scholarship for students going into corrections at AC from his teaching salary.
In 2010, Hale was named a Graduate of Distinction by West Texas A & M University in spite of taking nine years to finish his college degree. During his life, Hale was active in many civic and charitable organizations including Potter County Merger Study Committee, Potter County Jail Study Committee, Randall County Jail Study Committee, Amarillo Rape Crisis Service, Regional MHMR Committee on Alcoholism, Potter County Republican Party, Amarillo Child Care Association, Catholic Family Services, Amarillo NAACP, Texas Civil Liberties Union, Texas Nature Conservancy, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Amarillo Rifle and Pistol Club.
Hale had a special love for mules, hunting, and building fence at his homeplace in Gruver. He raised and rode mules for many years and hunted in the mountains of New Mexico and Colorado any time he could.
Hale was preceded in death by his parents, Selden Hale Jr. and Pauline Hale; brother, John Garland Hale; and sister, Mona Hale.
Hale is survived by his wife and fellow political activist, Claudia DeLaughter Stravato; five children, Sarah Hale Uselding and husband Shawn, Mona Maria Hale and husband Brandon Atchley of Childress, Selden B. Hale, IV, former marine of Amarillo, Michael Stravato of Houston, and Anna Stravato Ashby of Barwell, England; 10 perfect grandchildren; brother, Dr. Thomas Hale and wife Quetha of Amarillo; nephews, David Hale of Dallas, and Michael Hale of Salt Lake City; niece, Monica Bull of Dallas; and his long-time legal assistant, Suzanne “Suzy” Stahl of Amarillo.
The family wishes to especially thank Kristie Lash and Linda Herbst of Goodcare Home Health company, and Lisa Forbis, R.N. and Melissa Estrada, LVN of BSA Hospice of the Southwest, who provided excellent and loving care to Selden during his final months. The family asks that memorials be made to the Selden B. Hale Correctional Officer Scholarship Fund at Amarillo College in lieu of flowers.
Arrangements are being handled by Boxwell Brothers Funeral Directors in Amarillo. The family will receive friends from 6-8 p.m., Tuesday, September 13, 2022, at Boxwell Brothers Funeral Home. The funeral will be at 10 a.m., Wednesday, September 14, 2022, in the Boxwell Brothers Ivy Chapel located at 2800 Paramount Blvd. Hale will be buried in a family service at the Hansford County Cemetery in Spearman at 4 p.m.