Hilliard had an older brother who was a special-needs individual, and he always felt protective of him, having spent his childhood defending his brother against bullies.
“From my earliest days, I saw how mean people could be to those perceived as weak or vulnerable,” he says. “My brother, Del, and I shared a room, and he was like a younger brother to me when we were growing up. He died unexpectedly just last year, and if anything, his death has made me more determined to protect and help those who have suffered.” He wasn’t afraid to stand up against injustice then and hasn’t been since. Hilliard has practiced law in the state of Texas since 1983, specializing in defending the helpless against injustice. He founded his own firm in Corpus Christi in 1985, which has now grown to a national practice. Hilliard, Munoz, Gonzalez, LLP handles some of the largest personal injury cases in America. He is famous around the country as the cowboy from Texas who won’t let injustice have its sway in America. “I’ve had a long career representing the ‘everyman,’” Hilliard says, “and it’s pretty amazing how helpless the everyman is made to feel.”
For nearly 30 years, Hilliard has been the voice seeking justice for those injured through others’ negligence or by the justice system itself.
He is now nationally respected for his efforts. He has been selected as a Texas Super Lawyer seven times (in 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010); he is a member of the Litigation Council of America; and he is the past national co-chair of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America’s Ethics Committee. “It took me 30 years to be an overnight success,” he laughs. But a success, he is, owing to several recent prominent cases where he has defended the innocent against large corporations.
One such was the case of Koua Fong Lee, who was convicted of vehicular homicide in a 2006 accident in which his Toyota Camry accelerated and crashed into another car, killing all three people in it. Lee has maintained since the accident that the accelerator malfunctioned, and that he tried to brake, but could not. Hilliard agreed to assist the family of the people killed in the crash who were suing Toyota. The family was convinced that a car malfunction – not Lee – was responsible for the crash. Hilliard then became interested in Lee’s case; he believed if he could prove Lee’s innocence, he could free a man condemned to eight years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit and prove his case against Toyota at the same time. The attorney for the family was adamant, however, and refused to take any interest in the Lee case, but instead wanted to focus entirely on the case against Toyota. Hilliard couldn’t abandon Lee, however. The bullies were winning – and Hilliard couldn’t let that happen. When he approached the family’s attorneys and told them he had to defend Lee, they told him he would be fired if he did so. Hilliard then quit the case, contacted Lee’s attorneys and told them Lee had a case and he would defend him for free.
Despite much opposition, he was able to get Lee a new hearing, and he found evidence that the prosecutors buried showing that Lee attempted to stop his vehicle prior to the crash. The state then offered Lee a plea deal. He admits he was at fault, but then is immediately freed for time served. “I told him that I thought I could get him out anyway, but that he had a family to think about,” Hilliard recalls. “I told him free is free; it’s tough to turn down any deal that lets you sleep at home that night instead of spending five more years in jail.” But Lee knew Hilliard wanted to prove the truth as much as he did and wouldn’t budge. He had maintained his innocence for many years, and he wouldn’t back down. He pled innocent. Miraculously, the judge agreed with him, and the county attorney dropped all charges. After three years behind bars while his four small children grew up without him, Lee was released on Aug. 5, 2010.
Hilliard was triumphant: A wrongly convicted man was free to go home to his family, forcing pressure on Toyota to correct the defect in its automobiles. Another recent case that struck close to home was the “fight club” case he is pursuing against the state of Texas. When he saw the video of mentally challenged individuals being forced to fight by those in charge at the Corpus Christi State School, Hilliard was enraged.
“They were being brutalized over there,” he fumes. “Special-needs adult men being abused. Don’t you think that pushed my buttons?” He is arguing the case in February in the Fifth Circuit Court of appeals in New Orleans. Hilliard was most recently hired by the Mexican family of a 15-year-old boy who was shot between the eyes in cold blood by a U.S. Border Patrol agent while the boy stood unarmed on the Mexican side of the border. “The complete loss of a family’s dreams,” Hilliard says. “The end of a beautiful young life, barely begun.” Hilliard has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the U.S. Government and the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection. He’ll also be spending a lot of time in New Orleans this year. He is pursuing a case against British Petroleum on behalf of Gulf King Services, Inc., the largest commercial fishing services company in the gulf, as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. He is also pursuing another case against FEMA on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of people given trailers containing high levels of formaldehyde in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
In his quarter century practicing law, Hilliard counts many victories for the helpless. He has successfully pursued cases against drug manufacturers who produced drugs that caused severe birth defects; against H&R Block for providing loans without sufficient disclosure; and against companies whose employees were injured on the job as a result of negligence – all to the tune of millions of dollars in damages for the victims. And it’s pushed him into the national spotlight. He and his cases have been featured on “Good Morning America,” “ABC World New News,” “Nightline,” “60 Minutes” and Fox News. Now Hilliard’s oldest daughter is entering law school, and he knows that because of his hard work, she and her five siblings live in a safer and more just world. Even when his brother died suddenly last year, leaving him and his parents grief-stricken, Hilliard was a champion for the underdog.
He noticed while his brother was sick that the hospital was ill-equipped to treat him because he had special needs, and Hilliard vowed that no other family would worry that their special-needs child was not receiving proper care. He worked with the hospital to provide a training program, a written policy and a procedure on how to deal with special-needs adults so that in the future, special-needs individuals will be treated with the utmost care possible. “I don’t think about it every day,” Hilliard says, “but when I do, I know that the passion that fuels me – fuels my work – comes from the love I had for him, and the very primal need I have always felt to protect him from injustice and from bullies.” What a legacy his brother leaves behind. Because of Del’s special relationship with Bob, victims around the country have had a champion to fight so that justice is done.
To find out more about Bob Hilliard and Hilliard, Munoz, Gonzalez, LLP, go to http://www.hmglawfirm.com or call 800-334-3298.