Born in Roxboro, North Carolina and raised in Durham County, Judge James Thomas “Jim” Hill learned from his parents, James Isaac Hill and Pattie Day Hill, to work hard daily, to care about his fellow man and woman and to always focus on the right path.
Judge Hill was born in October 1950 in Roxboro, North Carolina and has lived in Rougemont, North Carolina (a small community in the farthest northern section of Durham County) his entire life. A drive up Highway 501 takes one to Rougemont, which one will come across just before reaching the Durham/Person county line.
Family always meant a lot to Judge Hill’s parents. James Isaac Hill grew up in a family of 11, while Pattie Day Hill came from a family of 15. As a result, Judge Hill had 38 first cousins. The family reunions and other gatherings always became big celebrations in which the smell of Brunswick stew hung in the air as it cooked over an open fire. Judge Hill -- Jim – along with his many cousins enjoyed each day until they became completely worn out.
Jim was the third of three kids. His two sisters are Tennilean, best known as “Tennie”, and Willa. Those family days seem particularly special as every summer Jim spent much of his time working in the hot fields doing the tough task of priming tobacco. While Jim enjoyed the fellowship of working in the fields with family members and others, the hard work helped give him the sense of dedication and commitment to focus on learning and furthering his education.
Jim’s parents taught him about building a strong family home life, looking out for friends and neighbors, giving back to the community, serving one’s nation and having a strong faith in God.
Jim’s father, James Isaac Hill, worked for many years selling fertilizer and working in warehouses that auctioned tobacco. Jim’s Mom, Pattie Day Hill, focused mostly on raising the three children and taking care of the family home.
Jim remembers many summers when his Mom worked in the tobacco fields as well to help sustain the family. Jim says the family often struggled, which many did back then and still do today, but his family always had what it needed. Jim grew up in a Christian home in which people helped neighbors and extended family looked out for each other. The church often served as the center of the community and church members would offer each other support. His parents and those involved in his church emphasized that all are equal in the eyes of God and that all must work hard and serve one’s community and country to make a better life for all.
Although Jim’s parents did not have high school diplomas, they emphasized the need for Jim and his sisters to attend school and better themselves. The hard work, dedication, commitment and love from his parents inspired Jim to work his way through college and law school.
In school, Jim discovered an interest in public service when he served as campaign manager for Tommy Browning, one of his best friends, who ran for and won the position of Student Body President of Northern High School. While at Northern, Jim also gained a nearly lifelong passion for running by participating on the track and field team with the 220 Yard Dash. He also participated in track in Pole Vault. Jim also had a love of football, which spurred him to join Northern’s football team.
Jim often loves to point out that the team never lost a game in which he played. Of course, he conveniently leaves out until the end of the story, which often comes out with a chuckle when he explains how he almost always remained on the sidelines until the starters had run up the score enough against the opposition.
While Jim gave up playing football after high school graduation, he kept on running long afterward.
In fact, Jim loved jogging as a hobby so much that he participated in many 5-K runs throughout the Triangle area. Sadly for Jim, he had to curtail at least his competitive running due to a back surgery a few years ago. Jim, however, stays in shape and urges everyone to do so through some form a regular exercise. Anyone who visits the Duke Center in the morning will find Jim exercising as he visits the place at least five times a week.
After graduating from Northern High School with the Class of 1969, Jim attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He graduated from UNC in 1973 with a Bachelor’s of Arts in Political Science. While as a sophomore at UNC, Jim met Renee Yoder and the two have been together ever since. Jim insists that Renee’s good looks, smile, sense of humor, southern charm and personality attracted him, while Renee jokingly insists that the 1966 Ford Mustang she drove first got Jim’s attention. The two will always agree that they still wish they had that fun car.
Jim and Renee married on December 23, 1972. By that time, Renee had graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Nursing and had begun working at UNC Hospitals (formerly known as NC Memorial Hospital) until they temporarily relocated to Birmingham, Alabama, for Jim to attend law school.
While in Birmingham, Jim attended the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University, while Renee worked as a nurse. While at Cumberland, Jim served as the editor of the Cumberland Lawyer, the alumni publication.
Throughout law school and previously during his college years, Jim worked in construction and many other manual labor jobs to pay his tuition costs, including some time with Joe Moore and Company.
He will always remember his days with Joe Moore when he climbed into an industrial water heater to scrape off sediment. He truly began to understand the feeling of claustrophobia from that work.
Once Jim graduated from law school, he and Renee moved back to Durham County to start a family, establish a home life and serve their home community. Jim began to establish a law career, while Renee continued to work as a nurse at Duke Hospitals.
As a lawyer in private practice for more than 25 years, Jim handled civil and criminal matters. The latter 15 years he practiced in a firm with John Randall, Bob Jervis, Bill Yeager and Joe Anthony. He helped the citizens of Durham County with problems affecting all areas of law. He remains the only Durham County Judge that has extensive experience in civil law, as well as in criminal law. He also worked on domestic and juvenile cases.
Jim -- Judge Hill -- has served on the District Court bench since winning the election in 2002. As a District Court Judge, Judge Hill has demonstrated fairness and decisiveness in all his case and works to have those before him to consider how they can change their lives to make a positive impact on themselves and their community. He holds all offenders appropriately accountable.
Judge Hill follows the law, but also gives first-time youthful offenders, who show promise, opportunities to do community service, to educate themselves and to make a real change rather than just face a sentence and a fine that will change little.
In his courtroom, Judge Hill talks to those before them on how they can change, make amends, repay and grow from their actions. Many low level youthful offenders often receive deferred sentencing so that they can look into community service, other volunteer work, and make efforts to improve their school grades and attendance. Those that take the opportunity to turn their lives around may have their record cleared.
Judge Hill also pushes for changes in the courts generally to establish more formal diversionary and restorative justice programs. Judge Hill helped establish the newly created Mental Health Court that works closely with participants to consider how their mental health may have influenced the offense and how specialized treatment of their mental health would prevent them from re-offending.
Judge Hill also has worked for diversionary programs for nonviolent drug offenders as well as for juveniles that commit minor offenses. That is why Judge Hill helped formed the Truancy Court Program at the Carrington Middle School to reach out to truant youths and help them change their ways to attend school and plan for a better future. As the Senior Judge of Durham’s District Court, Judge Hill has talked with legislators about the value of such programs and for proper funding of Durham County Courts to properly handle the cases before it.
Judge Hill experience as a father and grandfather helps guide those before him to begin making the right decisions. Judge Hill -- Jim -- and his wife, Renee, have two biological children and two children that they adopted. They have raised all four children in a loving home. They now have six grandchildren, too.
Jim and Renee’s family first increased in size by one in 1977 when their first child was born, a daughter named Jennifer Marie. In 1980, Jim and Renee added another child to their family when their son, James Thomas Hill, Jr., was born.
Jennifer attended Northern High School and graduated in 1995. Jim Jr. also attended Northern High School and graduated in 1998. Jennifer attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and graduated in 1999. She earned a master’s degree in teaching in 2000. Jim Jr. earned his undergraduate degree from North Carolina State University in 2003 and a master’s degree from University of Louisville in 2006.
Jennifer married Mike Hobgood in 2003. They now have three children, Drew, 10, and the twins, Jake and Ella, who are 6. Jennifer works as a music teacher at Voyager Academy for two of the elementary grades and two high school chorus groups. Mike, who had played football at Northern High School and UNC-Chapel Hill, now serves as the head football coach at South Granville High School in Creedmoor, NC. Mike had played football at Northern High School and at UNC, so no one in the family felt surprise when he chose the career of coaching high school football.
Jim Jr. and his wife, Jessica, married in 2006 and now live in Memphis, TN, with their two children, James Thomas Hill, III (Tripp), 4, and Lola, 2. Jim Jr. works with a company named Varsity Spirit. He was a cheerleader at NC State University as an undergraduate and at the University of Louisville as a graduate student, so he took his interest in cheerleading and turned it into a profession by working with Varsity Spirit.
The love of family prompted Jim and Renee to want to further grow their family. However, they decided that they wanted to open their home and hearts to children without a family and without a loving home so they looked into adopting orphaned children from South Korea. In 1985, Jim and Renee welcomed Elizabeth Kim (Beth) into their home and family.
She was born on Valentine’s Day in 1985 and arrived in the United States on Mother’s Day Weekend at the age of three months. Jim and Renee considered the adoption as an incredible blessing and, in many ways, a story of miracles with how they were able to find and bring Beth into their home. They then decided to open their hearts and home again. They describe the feeling as “a definite calling.” Their second son, Graham Lee, was born in South Korea in April 1988 and at four months joined the Hill family as their youngest son.
Today Beth is 33 and Graham is 30. She attended and graduated from Vance-Granville Community College. In 2012, she married Ted Yarboro and they have a sweet 19-month-old son named Liam. Beth works at Duke Hospitals in the operating room as a radiography technologist and Ted works for Johnson-Lambe Company in Raleigh.
Graham studied at Southeastern College in Wake Forest before transferring and graduating from the University of Pittsburgh. He is working on his master’s degree has attended classes at Wake Forest and Emory universities and hopes to work as a university professor.
While working and raising a family, Jim -- Judge Hill -- also has given his time faithfully to Durham County for the past 42 years. He served on the board of the Northern Junior Athletic Association for 16 years serving as Treasurer.
Further, Judge Hill coached many teams throughout his time with the association mentoring numerous children. He counsels and guides those who played on his teams to work together, to learn from the mistakes they make on the court and to give their best and all during every minute of a game.
Faith plays an important role in Judge Hill’s life. He and his wife initially attended and had involvement in Christ Lutheran Church when they returned to Durham after law school. However, in 1993, they moved their membership to The Summit Church (previously known as Homestead Heights Baptist Church) and have been faithful members since.
At The Summit, Judge Hill -- Jim -- held the position of Head Deacon two terms and was a deacon for many years. Jim and Renee have served as choir members throughout the years at both churches. Since 2005, The Summit Church has dedicated a full week each year for prayer and service, working with community partners and connecting with marginalized neighbors who need counseling, assistance and more. Jim and Renee have participated in that effort and other outreach each year and have worked to faithfully connect and serve the Durham community. Further, Jim and Renee have committed to other efforts offered by The Summit Church for service.
They have taken part on many mission trips (usually 1-2 weeks) around the world to serve and assist people in need in other countries. Jim has completed missions in Thailand four times and once in India, while Renee has gone to South Africa, Thailand, and China on missions.
Along with local and international serving, Jim and Renee have served through short-term opportunities in the USA. They both have volunteered their time in Montana and in Baltimore to assist local churches in those areas.
An additional area of service for Jim involves membership in the 100 Men in Black Male Chorus. This Gospel choir has the mission to provide proactive positive alternatives to youth and adult males through the use of music, actions of faith, efforts of community service, and examples of positive role modeling and mentoring. The group consists of representatives of all age groups, ethnicities, and walks of life. The 100 Men in Black perform in local churches, in a local youth detention center and at many local events throughout North Carolina and as far away as Washington, D. C. and Yale University. They recently returned from touring in Canada and have sung at Swanee College of the South for its Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration. Further, it often collaborates with the Durham Symphony for concerts.
All this background holds importance as all this experience formed the man and public servant that Judge Jim Hill is today. He was raised in Durham County. His parents raised him to work hard and honestly daily. He worked in the fields, scrimped and saved to pay his way through college and law school.
Judge Jim Hill worked more than 25 years as a civil and criminal lawyer. He has served for 16 years as a district court judge and now served as the Chief Judge.
Judge Jim Hill and his wife, Renee, have a wonderful 45-year-marriage. They raised four children -- two biological and two adopted -- and now have six grandchildren.
Judge Jim Hill constantly gives back to his community and nation through his church and community service.
As a judge, he works daily to help people improve their lives and overcome the problems or bad decisions that led them to his courtroom. Judge Jim Hill is from Durham County and is always working for Durham County.