Connecticut State Library with state seal

Memorials of Connecticut Judges and Attorneys
As Printed in the Connecticut Reports
volume 148, page(s) 737-740

OBITUARY SKETCH OF GEORGE E. HINMAN

George Elijah Hinman, the son of William C. and Mary A. Gates Hinman, was born in Alford, Massachusetts, on May 7, 1870, and died at his home in Willimantic on March 19, 1961. His ancestors were from Connecticut, those on his father's side having first settled in Litchfield County and those on his mother's side in Norwich. Upon graduation from high school in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, in 1888, he entered newspaper work, first as a reporter and advertising manager of the Berkshire Courier, published in Great Barrington, and later as its local editor. After coming to Connecticut, he became city editor of the Willimantic Daily Herald. In 1892, he was appointed editor of the Willimantic Journal, a position which he resigned in 1895 to devote himself to the study of law. This he pursued in the office of William A. King, in Willimantic, and later, during 1897 and 1898, in a special course in the Yale Law School, where he won the Thompson prize for scholastic achievement. In 1899, he was admitted to the Connecticut bar, and shortly afterward, on September 26 of that year, he was married to Nettie P. Williams, of Willimantic, who died June 14, 1932. Two children were born of this marriage, Russell William, now a paper manufacturer in Penacook, New Hampshire, and Mrs. Virginia Gates Allen, with whom Justice Hinman made his home until his death. Also surviving are four grandchildren, Mrs. Norman Kiss of Willimantic, Mrs. Thomas DiNardo of Philadelphia, Mrs. George Bacon of Penacook, and George Russell Hinman, also of Penacook.

Until his appointment to the bench, Justice Hinman was active in the Republican party; he was secretary of its state central committee from 1902 until 1914. In seven consecutive biennial sessions of the General Assembly he held clerkships, starting as assistant clerk of the house in 1899. He became clerk of the house in 1901 and clerk of the senate in 1903. While these positions gave him a wide acquaintance among legislators and a thorough knowledge of legislative procedure, his first real opportunity to put to use his outstanding ability in legislative draftsmanship came with his appointment as assistant clerk of the constitutional convention of 1902. In the sessions of 1905, 1907 and 1911 he was clerk of bills, and in the session of 1909 engrossing clerk. Both of these positions principally involved the drafting of legislation.

In 1914, Justice Hinman received the Republican nomination for attorney general of Connecticut. He was elected to that office and served the full term from 1915 through 1918. On February 13, 1919, he was appointed a judge of the Superior Court for the term of eight years commencing the following August 23. On February 19, 1925, he was appointed a justice of the Supreme Court of Errors, effective February 26, 1926, and served with distinction until May 7, 1940, when he was retired under the constitutional limitation as to age and automatically became a state referee. In this latter capacity he worked steadily and conscientiously until a few years before his death, when a hearing impairment which had first manifested itself some years after his retirement from the bench finally forced him to give up this work in spite of the fact that he enjoyed relatively good health and in other respects he had the full use of his faculties almost until his death.

As a lawyer, he was outstanding for his legal scholarship and painstaking attention to detail. This brought him, almost from the date of his admission to the bar, an excellent practice which steadily grew in volume and importance. It also contributed in no small degree to his success in the drafting and preparation of legislation in the General Assembly. Good draftsmanship of even a simple piece of legislation requires an accurate knowledge and understanding of the common law applicable to the subject matter of the bill, the extent to which that law has already been modified by other legislation, and what change in the existing law the proposed bill is intended to make. Finally, and perhaps most difficult of all, it requires the clear expression of that change, so phrased as properly and fairly to apply generally to the myriad of unforeseeable factual situations which the enactment will affect. It was in this field of legislative draftsmanship that Justice Hinman's knowledge of the law, clear mental processes, and precision of expression first won state-wide recognition. Later on, as attorney general, these attributes stood him in good stead. Perhaps in that office more than in any other place, legislation is likely to receive its initial construction. Seldom did his opinions as attorney general, whether concerned with the interpretation and application of legislation or with other fields of law, fail to meet with the approval of the courts.

While his service of less than seven years as a judge of the Superior Court was unusually short for Connecticut, it was from every point of view most successful, and so demonstrated his judicial capacity that his elevation to the Supreme Court of Errors met with universal approval.

Probably it is by reason of his fourteen years of service on the Supreme Court of Errors that he will be best remembered. Here, his legal learning and broad experience in the law, his clarity of mental processes and his command of English resulted in opinions which stand in the forefront of those of any court of last resort. They are free from uncertainty of concept. They lay down rules not only readily understandable by bench and bar but sound and workable - the product of a mind familiar with the actual problems of trying a case and recognizing that no rule of law, however appealing in vacuo, can be a good rule, or productive of justice, unless it can be successfully applied in the courtroom. It would be without profit, and probably impossible, to evaluate the effect, on Justice Hinman's opinions, of his early experience in newspaper writing or in the drafting of legislation. It is enough that for sound legal scholarship, clarity of thought and expression, style, and felicitous use of English, his opinions have seldom been equaled and are outstanding.

In spite of all this, his was in no sense a cloistered life, surrounded by lawbooks. He was not oblivious to the joys and demands of the world about him. He participated actively in the work of professional societies including the Windham County Bar Association, the State Bar Association of Connecticut, and the American Bar Association. He devoted much time and effort to the Windham County Law Library Association and was its librarian at Willimantic until shortly before his death. He enthusiastically enjoyed association with his fellowmen. He was a member of Cincinnatus Lodge, A.F. & A.M., of Great Barrington and, in Willimantic, of Trinity Chapter No. 9, R.A.M., and Olive Branch Council, No. 10, R. & S.M.; he was past commander of St. John's Commandery, K.T. He was also a member of the Willimantic Lodge, Knights of Pythias. He belonged to the Thread City Cyclers, a club which flourished in Willimantic around the turn of the century and was composed of persons interested in bicycling. Justice Hinman was a slight man, almost frail appearing, but actually he had a strong constitution. During the period in question, he regularly engaged in "century runs" - bicycle trips in which the participants rode over one hundred miles in a single day. When the unpaved and upgraded dirt roads of that era are borne in mind, it is obvious that only the physically fit could engage in such an activity. Throughout his life, Justice Hinman maintained his interest in the business advancement of Willimantic. He was a member and past president of the Chamber of Commerce, and an organizer, incorporator and stockholder of the Willimantic Trust Company.

But most important of all, he was ever conscious of the duty which each person owes to society and to his fellowmen and was always responsive to its call. For years he served as president of the Willimantic Welfare Bureau, an organization devoted to relieving the needs of the unfortunate regardless of race or creed. He devoted much time to the administration of the Card Home for the Aged and to the Y.M.C.A. Throughout his life in Willimantic, he was not only a member of the First Congregational Church but gave much time and effort to its work, including service on its board of trustees and its board of deacons and in many other capacities, such as the teaching of a Sunday school class for boys of adolescent age - a class of which the writer himself was once a member. In recognition of this long service, the church created, and appointed Justice Hinman to, the honorary position of permanent deacon.

He had a keen, but always kind, sense of humor. He readily laughed with a person but never at him. He was always emotionally stable and had a calm, sympathetic and wholesome attitude toward life and his fellowmen which, when combined with his profound knowledge of law, made him an ideal judge. He had no enemies, because his considerate attitude towards others gave no ground or occasion for offense. He was respected and beloved by all with whom he came in contact. Both as a judge and as a man, he left the world the better for having lived in it.

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