Opinion: A judge in cowboy boots | Opinion
If you ask just about anyone who knew Judge William “Bill” Daniel (1922-2002), one of the first things they’ll mention are his cowboy boots. His boots were only part of the story of this fascinating gentleman who raised purebred Santa Gertrudis cattle on his ranch on Mountain Road in Milton while simultaneously being a respected lawyer and judge in Atlanta.
Bill somehow merged two successful careers, transitioning from one world to another with ease. Those who knew him in one world did not necessarily know much about the other.
He was a committed lawyer with a big heart and a mischievous smile. His favorite phrase was
“…the most beautiful words in the English language are…”not guilty”.”
At the same time, he was a leader in local cattle ranching – a true cowboy at heart. Even his costumes were specially designed in the cowboy style.
His wife, Jean Hammack Daniel (1925-2019), will tell the story of Bill’s appointment to the Superior Court of Fulton Country in 1979. He was sent to the National Judicial College at the University of Nevada to learn how to become a judge . He left home with one interest, the law, and returned home as a committed cowboy. He attended college several times and bought a new piece of cowboy attire each time, finally a pair of boots.
“He never wore shoes again,” Jean said. “He found his true calling. She called him the cowboys’ grandmother Moses.
While serving as a judge, Bill purchased a horse, Yankee, and 31 acres of prime land in Milton. He named the plot Diamond Dollar Ranch and made several trips to the famed King Ranch in Texas to purchase valuable Santa Gertrudis cattle. Soon, he embarked on cattle breeding. The couple sold their home in Buckhead and moved to their ranch in 1993.
A century-old barn existed on the property. Bill added cattle pens, chutes and a bunkhouse where he gave free rent to the cowherds he needed to tend his cattle. In the 1980s he became active in the North Georgia Cattleman’s Association and at one time served as president.
Dr. Lanier Orr, a breeder and owner of the Orr Animal Hospital in Cumming, says Bill was “ahead of his time. At the time, people did not believe that women were interested in the cattle trade. Bill brought women into the organization, and they have played a vital role ever since.
Bill came through his love of the land honestly. He grew up on a farm in the small town of Eastman, central Georgia, where his father trained horses and mules before becoming a Gulf Oil distributor and car dealership, according to his son-in-law, attorney Stan Lawson. Bill attended the local junior college before enrolling at Emory University.
His education was interrupted by World War II when he served as a naval surgeon in the Pacific. After the war, he earned an LLM or Master of Laws from Duke University.
While establishing his cattle operation in Milton, Bill continued his career as a criminal defense attorney in Atlanta. In 1974, he and four colleagues established the Georgia Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, of which Bill served as the first president. Much of the association’s early work was done in Bill’s one-man office in Atlanta. From a handful of members in the early years, the organization has grown to over 1,500 members today.
Jill Travis, the organization’s executive director, says, “Bill Daniel is a hero for this organization.
Bill wrote the Georgia Criminal Trial Practice reference book which is still used by all practitioners in Georgia. For more than 20 years, the Bill Daniel Trial Advocacy program—named in his honor—has offered seminars to hone the courtroom skills of young criminal defense attorneys.
Samuel “Dick” Ruben, now a federal defenseman for Idaho State, remembers working with Bill starting in 1969 when they were young lawyers in Atlanta.
Dick says, “Bill was a wonderful man, a true advocate for the generally marginalized and voiceless, always a gentleman, but also always a powerful force for the people he represented.”
Bill was active in other ways. He taught Sunday School at Wieuca Road Baptist Church for over 20 years, with some of his students staying with the class the entire time. He also served as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Georgia in 1990.
Bill and Jean’s property has been put up for sale. Their three daughters, Mary Stark, Judi Lawson and Isabell Daniel hope the property will be sold as a unit to someone who will operate it as a farm with the same dedication and commitment as their parents.