Rock Hill attorney Hancock remembered as a 'people’s laywer'

rsouthmayd@heraldonline.comJanuary 4, 2014 

Rock Hill attorney Bill Hancock died on Thursday after a life that included serving his country in Vietnam and decades of serving the people of York County as a well-liked and much-respected attorney.

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In 1992, when Tommy Pope became the solicitor of York County, the court system faced a massive backlog of cases. Thousands of people were waiting for their day in court, and Pope was determined to reduce that number. But for every prosecutor, there must be a defense attorney and that’s where James William “Bill” Hancock Jr. came in, volunteering countless hours to help people see their day in court.

“I just always remember that over the years, he saw the bigger picture of how the criminal justice system affected our community,” Pope said on Saturday

Bill Hancock died on Thursday at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte at the age of 68.

Described by those who knew him as a great lawyer and a wonderful person, Hancock represented defendants in several high-profile cases, including James “Jimmy” Robertson, who was sentenced to death in the murders of his Rock Hill parents in 1997, and Phillip Watts Jr., who shot four people in York County in 2007 and 2008.

“He was a very aggressive trial lawyer, but at the end of the day, when a case was over, it was still easy to be friends with him,” said Dan Hall, an assistant public defender in York County. “Even though it’s an adversarial system, Bill was always a friend, no matter what went on during trial.”

That friendliness extended to how Hancock treated all of his clients, Pope said. Hancock was a “common man,” capable of relating to everyone.

“He was a guy that was going to roll up his sleeves and help somebody and that’s what he did time and time again,” said Pope, who described Hancock’s personal relationship with clients as something “from a bygone era.”

It didn’t matter if a person was a prosecutor or a defense attorney or a defendant, Hall said.

“He liked people,” he said. “He knew how to do his job very effectively. However, Bill was also a people person and he just enjoyed people.”

Hancock was born in Greenwood in 1945. He was a graduate of Clemson University and served as an officer with the Army during the Vietnam War. After the war, he got his law degree from the University of South Carolina.

And while Hancock’s law career was important to him, Jack Leader, a friend and colleague, said it was nothing compared to his dedication to his family. Leader said he and his wife had taken many trips with Hancock and his wife. He recalled one trip when a thief stole some money from Hancock at a deli in New York. Hancock chased the thief all the way into a subway station. And, while he didn’t catch the man or get his money back, Hancock always had a good laugh about it, Leader said.

The outcome of Friday night’s Orange Bowl, in which Clemson defeated Ohio State, would have made Hancock very happy, Hall said.

Among Hancock’s survivors are his wife, Frances; his son, James W. Hancock III and his wife, Kristy; his daughter, Deanna Katherine Smith of Blair; and two grandchildren, James Cole Hancock and Justice Lee Hancock.

Hancock “was instrumental in raising the grandsons,” Leader said. “He loved his grandkids.”

A memorial service will be held 3 p.m. Sunday at First Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Rock Hill. The committal service will be 2 p.m. Monday at Greenwood Memorial Gardens in Greenwood.

Rachel Southmayd •  803-329-4072

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