Otis Hawes Turner (1927–2000)

Otis Hawes Turner was a widely respected trial lawyer who practiced in Arkadelphia (Clark County) and then later served as a circuit judge before being appointed justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court by Governor Bill Clinton in 1990.

Otis Turner was born on October 18, 1927, in Arkadelphia, one of seven children of Cleveland “Cleve” (or “Bear”) Turner and Laura Eva Flanagin Turner. Before he became a pharmacist, Turner’s father was a baseball player from Hope (Hempstead County) who played in three professional leagues in Arkansas and Texas in the first decade of the twentieth century. Two of his sons, Cleve Jr. and Otis, inherited his athletic acumen. The elder Turner attended Henderson College and Ouachita Baptist College at Arkadelphia and gave Ouachita teams the name Tigers.

The family settled at Arkadelphia, and Otis Turner, the youngest of the children, attended Texas Christian University at Fort Worth, Texas, and Ouachita Baptist, where he was a star on the football and basketball teams. He was the football team’s placekicker—he was known as “Magic Toe”—and was the hero who kicked a field goal in the closing seconds of the most celebrated of the annual Battles of the Ravine, in 1949, to defeat Henderson State Teachers College, 17–14.

He graduated from Ouachita Baptist in 1951 with a BA. After college, he spent two years in the U.S. Army, mostly in Japan, and became a golf pro at the country club in El Dorado (Union County), while participating in several professional golf tournaments. Later, he would explain that he decided to become a lawyer when he realized there were too many good golfers. He received a law degree at the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville (Washington County) in 1955—coaching the university’s golf team while he was there—and joined the Arkadelphia law firm of McMillan and McMillan. He married Molly Sue Stauber in 1956; they had two sons, Neal and Clyde “Tab” Turner. He was the Arkadelphia city attorney from 1959 to 1973.

When the Arkansas General Assembly created a second division of the Eighth Judicial Circuit in 1973, Governor Dale Bumpers appointed Turner to fill the new seat until 1975, when a newly elected judge took over. He served as an assistant to Governor David Pryor at the governor’s first legislative session, served on the state Racing Commission, and was an assistant to Attorney General Steve Clark in 1989, when Clark was preparing to run for governor in 1990. He was president of the Clark County Bar Association and the Southwest Arkansas Bar Association, as well as a member of the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission and the state Board of Law Examiners.

In 1978, Turner ran for a vacant seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court but was defeated by John I. Purtle of Little Rock (Pulaski County). Several years later, Purtle was charged in an arson-for-profit scheme. Although he was acquitted in a jury trial and kept his seat on the Supreme Court, Purtle resigned from the court in 1989 because of enduring conflicts with his fellow justices. Governor Clinton appointed Turner to fill the seat for a year until a new justice, Donald L. Corbin, was elected and took office in 1991.

Turner died on September 14, 2000, of a heart attack while he was helping a friend prepare a deer stand near the Ouachita River in Clark County. He is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery at Arkadelphia.

For additional information:
Ault, Larry. “Otis H. Turner, Arkadelphia Lawyer, Found Job ‘Gratifying.’” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September 16, 2000, p. 6B.

“Otis H. Turner.” Arkansas Lawyer (Winter 2001): 54.

Ernest Dumas
Little Rock, Arkansas

Last Updated: 04/19/2021

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