Jim Lane, Fort Worth attorney, former councilman and Stockyards visionary, dies at 78

Joyce Marshall/Star-Telegram archives

Jim Lane was nothing if not a fighter.

In his trademark cowboy hats, boots and suits, the well-spoken, popular defense attorney — who was fiercely loyal and had a sense of humor as big as Texas itself — spent a lifetime fighting for those who couldn’t fight for themselves, both in the courtroom and at City Hall.

Lane’s fighting days ended early Sunday. He died at hospital, a close family friend said. Lane was 78.

Lane loved all things Fort Worth — the cowboy traditions, the historic north side, even “Molly,” the iconic longhorn he would eventually fight to make sure was the official symbol of Cowtown.

Ironically, he wasn’t even born here. He was born in Uvalde, but he spent much of his childhood visiting his grandparents in north Fort Worth. He soaked up the cowboy culture — and learned about Cherokee Indians, as his grandfather was one. His family moved to Fort Worth. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Texas Christian University and a law degree from Baylor.

Lane first made headlines in the 1970s as a 24-year-old lawyer in the U.S. Army defending soldiers accused of taking part in the My Lai massacre.

After winning acquittal for his clients, he returned home three years later to practice law, settling in on the city’s north side, where he opened up his law practice and bought an historic home.

Through the years, he represented many current and former peace officers who had befallen legal troubles.

After years of bachelorhood, Lane finally gave up his single ways when he married Janet. The two would welcome Jake, their adopted son, in 2006.

He found a way to mix his Anglo and Indian heritages each Christmas, when he would hold a party at his out-of-town ranch featuring campfires, barbecue, tamales, cowboys and Indians who sang and played the drums sometimes in full headdress.

Public office

He made his first bid for public office in 1978, running unsuccessfully for state Senate. He tried again and lost in 1982, and made an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 1989, before winning election to the Fort Worth City Council in 1993. There he stayed until 2005, when he decided not to seek re-election.

His cowboy hat, cowboy boots and cowboy-cut suits became trademarks at City Hall, where he often tried to work as a mediator between different sides, but was never afraid to take someone to task to make sure citizens were properly being served.

During his tenure, he was an outspoken councilman who championed causes such as rebuilding LaGrave Field so the Fort Worth Cats minor-league baseball team would return to the city, restoring the Rose Marine Theater, working on tax abatements to bring jobs to the Alliance area — even helping form the Fort Worth Herd.

A determined and stubborn councilman, Lane found more success than failure on the council.

He fought for “Molly,” the iconic longhorn, to become the official symbol of Fort Worth. He fought for the Texas Motor Speedway to be built in Fort Worth, rather than Dallas. Lane fought to improve the trash-collection system, after the city switched to using carts to pick up the trash, frequently circulating photos of trash and grilling officials.

He never shied away from controversy — whether about fixing the city’s trash system or when a 2004 ethics complaint was filed against him and other council members over a tax abatement for Cabela’s sporting-goods chain. That complaint was dismissed.

“He’s gotten things done ... that we didn’t seem to be able to get done until he was in office,” former Councilman Steve Murrin said in 2005.

By 2006, Lane decided he wanted to get back on the public service horse, and this time he ran for a seat on the Tarrant Regional Water District board. He was elected from a crowded field to serve on the board that oversees the Trinity River project — which will create an urban lake and bypass channel through the near north side of Fort Worth, as well as an 800-acre development that is expected to double the size of downtown with a mix of housing, retail and commercial projects.

Sense of humor

Lane was known for his outspoken ways, his unreserved humor and the fact that he always spoke his mind — for better or worse.

An April Fools’ joke in 2005 was nearly too believable, when he went on the radio to proclaim that the city should put up two large light-up longhorns on top of The Tower, to honor the Fort Worth Herd. He even said he would present a resolution to rename the building the “Molly Tower,” naming the skyscraper after the city’s logo.

Lane didn’t think people would believe the tall tale, but he soon realized – after local and state officials started calling him in a panic – that people did believe it. And that gave Lane a good laugh.

“It was an April Fools’ joke that has been very successful,” he said happily.

In 2005, Lane drew nationwide attention when he noted that a T-shirt promoting an O’Reilly 300 Busch Series race that placed the Texas Motor Speedway in “Dallas, Texas,” rather than in Fort Worth.

“I would like the good citizens of Fort Worth to remind them that the Texas Motor Speedway is in Fort Worth,” Lane said in 2005. “While you’re at it, write the president of American Airlines and ask him to teach his pilots and flight attendants not to welcome people home to Dallas.”

After hundreds of people complained to O’Reilly, and the company recalled the sheets, Lane said that “on behalf of the good citizens of Fort Worth, we accept their apology.”

In 2009, he even made light of health problems that had befallen him. He underwent surgery for a Chiari I malformation, which had been causing numbness in his arms and hands and overall general discomfort. He joked that he had wanted the surgeon to put spacers in his short neck to make him taller. After the surgery, Lane said the surgeon told him that his skull was thicker than any patient he had ever encountered.

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