Dallas oil heiress/philanthropist/bridge-to-somewhere's namesake Margaret Hunt Hill died in 2007 at the age of 91. Shortly after, her grandson Al Hill III became sort-of famous for filing a lawsuit against his own father, his aunts and his siblings, as families tend to do when there is a multi-billion-dollar trust at stake. A detailed 2008 Vanity Fair article on the lawsuit reported on Hill III's many allegations against his own family — his relatives "have conspired to destroy two family trusts, sell off their largest holding, Hunt Petroleum, and 'steal for themselves the value of the trusts’ assets ... When he himself balked at this plan, he alleges, he was subjected to a 'shameless campaign of non-disclosure, browbeating, threats, and dirty tricks.'”
That was seven years ago. In that time, we built the bridge bearing his grandmother's name, and Hill III was later indicted by former DA Craig Watkins over alleged mortgage fraud; the charges were later dropped by a judge, and Hill III is now accusing Watkins of selectively prosecuting him. Hill III and his relatives, meanwhile, continue to fight over the trust. The latest hearing about their money was last week, bringing a flock of legal and financial representatives into a federal court room in Dallas. The actual Hill family was not there. Keeping track of which suit was representing which person or firm asking for money (a previous law firm Hill III is accused of not paying was also there) could get confusing with everyone speaking in finance jargon. It was all very corporate and clinical, up until the judge presiding suddenly made the shocking decision to talk about the legal dispute in human terms.
"You know, I am from limited means. All this was new to me," Magistrate Judge Renee H. Toliver said at at the end of the hearing. "Even in families like mine where people don't have much, they get into disputes. But Mr. [Al] Hill III started this party. And I think it's just sad and shocking that a family would be torn apart over these kinds of issues."
Hill III does not appreciate her sentiments. "When I heard Magistrate Tolliver admit that she's deciding my case based on her personal feelings, I was stunned," Hill said through his media representative in an emailed statement. "Don't get me wrong — I understand how the amounts of money involved can turn people off. But I was cut off when I asked questions my family didn't like and when I reported the tax fraud. "
Hill III lives in Atlanta and was trying to appoint Deutsche Bank to be the new trustee of the portion of his trust he inherited — an amount of money originally estimated to be in the $100 million range. His family contested his choice of Deutsche Bank on the basis that the bank didn't make the list of 25 eligible trustees a previous judge stipulated Hill III would have to choose from. Hill III, whom another judge recently ruled owes his past attorneys $40 million for unpaid services, argued through his current attorney that finding a trustee from the list provided was difficult. "The more people fight against Mr. Hill III, the more people file things in here saying we are entitled to this stuff and you can't appoint this person, every time Mr. Hill, III goes to find a suitor, it is like going into a new marriage with baggage," said his attorney John Da Grosa Smith.
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The attorney representing Hill III's father, Al Hill Jr., countered that Deutsche Bank's trust division has only $4.8 billion in assets — "nowhere close to the required size" of a bank necessary to manage all of Hill III's money. In the end, Judge Tolliver sided with Hill Jr. before telling all the suits in the room that it was "sad and shocking" that they were all still there, fighting over this. "I don't know whether Magistrate Tolliver came from limited means, but I do expect her to take a fair approach in viewing the facts and in applying the law," Hill III wrote after the ruling. His full statement is below:
When I heard Magistrate Tolliver admit that she's deciding my case based on her personal feelings, I was stunned.
Don't get me wrong — I understand how the amounts of money involved can turn people off. But I was cut off when I asked questions my family didn't like and when I reported the tax fraud.
At the time, I was just trying to be the kind of person who did the right thing, someone my children would look up to. I paid a high price for that. My grandmother had intended for me and my family to inherit a share of her trust fund, and my father has the power and money to prevent that from happening.
I don't know whether Magistrate Tolliver came from limited means, but I do expect her to take a fair approach in viewing the facts and in applying the law. Saying I "started" this ... just isn't true. I wasn't the first to file a lawsuit. I agree with her that seeing a family torn apart is sad and sometimes shocking. But I'm not the one responsible for my relative's misdeeds, and I had to defend myself and my family — and I've been proved right at every point. I don't know why Magistrate Tolliver sees my father as the victim. Someone might consider reminding her that Judge O'Connor found that my father committed perjury.
If she doubts that my focus is family, she's flat wrong. I wish I had a warm, loving family on my father's side, but that was just never the case. My family is my wife and our three children and I'm doing everything I can to protect and provide for them.