Jim Lane, attorney and civic leader, dies at 78

Jim Lane

Jim Lane, longtime attorney, civic leader, public official and champion for the city of Fort Worth, died on Sunday. He was 78.

Lane had been battling a lengthy illness before he sustained an injury from a recent fall. He died in hospice care, WFAA-TV reported.

Lane built his legal career defending police officers and members of the military charged with crimes.

“Jim Lane was an incredible man, who lived an incredible life,” Manny Ramirez, president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association and newly-elected Tarrant County commissioner, said on Twitter. “His impact will be felt for generations in Fort Worth and Tarrant County.”

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Lane died just one day before jury selection got underway in preparation for the Dec. 5  trial of Aaron Dean, the former police officer charged with murder in the October 2019 shooting death of Fort Worth resident Atatiana Jefferson. Lane had been slated to serve as lead attorney for the defense.

In addition to practicing law, Lane was a member of the Tarrant Regional Water District board of directors. He was first elected to the board in 2006 and served until his death.

Lane’s election to the water board, which oversees the $1.17 billion Panther Island flood control and economic development project, followed 12-years of service as District 2 representative on the Fort Worth City Council. Before winning his council seat, Lane ran unsuccessfully for the State Senate and U.S. Congress. In 2011, he ran for mayor but was defeated by Betsy Price, who went on to become Fort Worth’s longest-serving mayor.

As a councilman, Lane was an energetic advocate for his North Side district and was especially dedicated to preserving the Western culture of the Stockyards. He was instrumental in encouraging the revival of the Fort Worth Cats baseball team and construction of a North Side ballpark named LaGrave Field in tribute to the home park of the original Cats, a legendary minor league franchise affiliated with the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers. The new ballpark opened in 2002 but the Cats later folded and the ballpark was left idle, despite Lane’s efforts over the years to revive both.

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Former Fort Worth Mayor Ken Barr, whose service at City Hall as a city council member and mayor coincided with all but one of Lane’s six two-year terms on the council (1993-2005), said he and Lane were friends for six decades.

“We first met as Delta Tau Delta fraternity pledges at TCU in the fall of 1962,” Barr said. “As mayor, I could always count on Jim to be candid and honest. We voted together much of the time, but Jim always had a well-founded opinion, which he usually shared. He had a great sense of humor and an incredible commitment to Fort Worth.

“Over the years, Jim would call when he needed something – or I called him when I needed his help. He was a true friend and lots of us are going to miss him.”

The city council district Lane represented, Barr noted, “included most of old north Fort Worth. He was a strong advocate for North Side neighborhoods and the people who lived there, and he was a major champion for the redevelopment of the Stockyards.”

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“I’ll never forget the day Jim walked into my office at City Hall and announced that Fort Worth was going to have a longhorn cattle drive through the Stockyards,” Barr recalled. “He had come up with the idea of a cattle drive, built support in the Stockyards community, and he proceeded to convince our fellow council members that it was a good idea. It was, and the Fort Worth Herd has been on Exchange Avenue almost every day since 1999 thanks to Jim.”

Lane was not a Fort Worth native – he was born in Uvalde, Texas – but he spent time in Fort Worth as a child visiting his grandparents, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s report on his death. He attended college in Fort Worth, earning a bachelor’s degree from Texas Christian University, and then earned his law degree from Baylor University in Waco.

After being admitted to the bar in 1968, he served as a captain in the U.S Army JAG Corps (1969-1973). During this time, he defended soldiers charged with crimes, including some facing court martial for taking part in the My Lai massacre of civilians during the Vietnam War. His clients were all acquitted.

In 1973, he returned to Fort Worth and began practicing law at an insurance defense firm. In 1975, he opened his own law practice on the North Side, specializing in criminal, aviation, personal injury and family law.

As a trained pilot, Lane understood complex FAA regulations and served as the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s Legal Plan Attorney.

But he was best known over the years for representing police officers faced with legal problems and departmental disciplinary issues.

“Both professionally, and as a city council member, Jim was committed to our police officers and firefighters in their roles as public servants,” Barr said. “He made sure all the city council members understood that these public servants deserved our respect and our support.”

Lane was widely admired as a person and a public servant.

“Jim Lane was a trailblazer in countless ways, always carrying a fierce love for Fort Worth,” said Mayor Mattie Parker. “We all owe Jim a debt of gratitude for his decades of service to our city.”

Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley stated: “He was a public servant who left Fort Worth and Tarrant County better than he found it. He will be missed but his legacy lives on.”

Leah King, president of the water district board of directors, said “Jim’s passing will be felt profoundly here at TRWD and throughout our community. Jim was a champion of many community causes and fiercely advocated for all things North Side. His presence will be missed by each of us on the Board.”

Dan Buhman, the water district’s general manager, also praised Lane’s service: “During his sixteen-year tenure on the board of directors, Jim made a real difference in the quality of life for millions of individuals and their families and communities. We are grateful for his service and for how much he cared about TRWD staff and the communities we serve.”

Lane is survived by his wife, Janet, and son, Jake.