William “Bill” Hyslop, a Spokane native who twice served as the federal government’s top attorney east of the Cascades as part of a lifetime of community service that included advocating for local schools, died Sunday after an unexpected health complication. He was 71.
Deborah Hyslop, his wife, said it was fitting her husband of 39 years, who’d spent much of his life supporting law enforcement, died Sept. 11.
“He had gotten so involved with police,” she said. “It was the perfect date for Bill.”
The longtime local litigator and graduate of Shadle Park High School, Washington State University and the Gonzaga School of Law had spent his brief retirement pushing awareness of the growing threat of illicit fentanyl in Eastern Washington. He was a founding board member of the group Spokane Alliance for Fentanyl Education, which had just recently begun work to bring community leaders together to address the threat identified as a health crisis.
“I’m going to put my white shirts and my ties closer to the back of my closet,” Hyslop told the newspaper in March 2021, just before leaving the office for the second time and helping start the organization. “But I’m not stepping back from community service.”
In his retirement, Hyslop’s focus had also returned to his family.
“As grandpa, Bill occupied one of his most special jobs. In retirement, he traded briefcases and legal files in the back of his car for car seats. He spent the summer swimming and riding bikes with his grandkids,” the family said in a statement.
Working in retirement to better the community was as logical step for Hyslop, said Jim McDevitt, Hyslop’s friend who also served as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington between Hyslop’s terms.
“I told him, you don’t want to become a hermit, but you want to select things you are passionate about,” McDevitt said.
“It’s a big loss to the legal community,” McDevitt added.
Hyslop was born March 22, 1951, to Thomas and Catherine Hyslop, who owned a wheat, barley and grass seed farm north of Reardan.
Hyslop’s first appointment to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Eastern Washington came in 1991 following the retirement of his predecessor, John Lamp. He was nominated by President George H.W. Bush at the suggestion of then-U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, for whom Hyslop worked.
He was later picked again to lead the office by President Donald Trump. McDevitt said even though Hyslop identified as a Republican, he didn’t let politics enter into his decision-making as a federal prosecutor.
“We’re both kind of moderate Republicans,” McDevitt said. “Bill had friends on both sides of the aisle. He was very well-liked.”
Hyslop oversaw the office from 1991 until after the election of President Bill Clinton, leaving the office in 1993. He then returned to the office of Lukins & Annis, where he served as a principal.
His specialty was construction litigation, said Mike Maurer, Lukins & Annis firm president and principal.
“He represented a number of large contractors, right down to small homebuilders as well,” Maurer said.
In between his terms as U.S. attorney, Hyslop also served as vice chair of Spokane’s Use of Force Commission, which was formed to recommend changes to the Spokane Police Department following the death of Otto Zehm at the hands of Officer Karl Thompson. Hyslop penned several op-eds for the newspaper defending local law enforcement’s efforts. Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl said in a statement he’d miss “our frequent conversations and his wise counsel.”
“Bill had a heart for the community and was committed to the betterment of Spokane. His measured and even tempered approach allowed him to effectively work in many circles,” Meidl, who worked with Hyslop to push drug take-back events and other efforts countering the scourge of illicit fentanyl, said. “His passion for creating a safer Spokane was second to none.”
Mayor Nadine Woodward called Hyslop “a pillar in our community” in a statement Wednesday.
“I so admired his commitment to remain in public service following his recent retirement as U.S. Attorney to fight the drug epidemic on our streets, and was honored to join him in that effort,” Woodward said in her statement. “Bill was always at the ready to assist the mayor’s office, and was a wonderful mentor and friend.”
Hyslop remained with the Lukins & Annis until he was appointed by Trump in May 2019 to lead the U.S. Attorney’s Office again, becoming the only attorney to have twice served as head of the district, according to a statement from the office. Attorneys who served with Hyslop remembered him Wednesday as a passionate attorney and champion of justice.
“Bill was a thoughtful leader, who sought to achieve a just result in each and every case,” said Timothy Ohms, an assistant U.S. attorney who served the office during both of Hyslop’s terms at the helm, in a statement.
“Bill was particularly good at working with law enforcement – bringing together federal, state, tribal, and local leaders to address difficult issues and serving side by side with law enforcement to keep Eastern Washington safe,” said Earl Hicks, a 40-year veteran of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Eastern Washington, also in a statement.
In the early 1990s, Hyslop was also a leader of the campaign to form the Public Facilities District and replace the old Spokane Coliseum with the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena, chairing a committee called Fans for an Arena Now in Spokane. Later, he would partner with community leaders to push taxpayer support of a bond issue in 1998 that led to the renovation of Lewis and Clark High School, which was falling into disrepair, as part of a group called Citizens for Spokane Schools. The organization ultimately supported three successful school bond issues.
“He was a solid, logical man that thought things through,” said Tyrus Tenold, part of the Citizens for Spokane Schools. “He always showed up with a smile and a good attitude about things.”
Hyslop’s family said one of his greatest honors was serving on the board of the Legal Foundation of Washington, a nonprofit that distributes trust fund donations to low-income residents to provide civil legal services.
Hyslop was also active in supporting the legal profession. He served as president of the Washington State Bar Association from 2015-16 and as its past president through 2018 before taking on the second appointment as U.S. attorney for the district. He was also an active supporter of the local Boy Scouts and served as president of the Washington State University Alumni Association.
Maurer said many at Lukins & Annis worked with Hyslop and were mourning his death.
“Bill was a partner and a respected colleague, not only in our law firm but in the legal community as a whole,” Maurer said. “He was a public servant his entire professional life.”
Vanessa Waldref, the current U.S. Attorney for Eastern Washington, called Hyslop “a lifelong friend to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and a dedicated public servant.”
“I was honored to serve with Bill, and I was impressed with his passion for serving the Spokane community. We will miss him greatly,” Waldref said in a statement.
Services are pending, Deborah Hyslop said.
“Dad was a person that cared deeply about fairness. Whether in his legal practice or in a political discussion, he held steadfastly to the belief that all sides are deserving of fair exploration and consideration,” Hyslop’s daughter, Kathleen Hyslop, said in a statement.