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RIP, Joe Jamail

A legal legend.

Joe Jamail

Legendary Texas lawyer Joe Jamail, known as the “King of Torts,” passed away today from complications from pneumonia.

Texas Lawyer in 2014 asked Jamail whether he ever planned to retire.

“You’ll read about it in the obituary,” Jamail replied. He tried a lawsuit this year shortly after he turned 90.

“He was everything they said he was, and then some,” said Houston attorney Robin Gibbs, one of Jamail’s close friends. “Joe’s success as a lawyer in my opinion was directly attributable to his love of people. He was energized by his relationships with people—friends and family alike. … He was the best judge of human nature and what made a person tick of anybody I have ever encountered. Joe could meet somebody and in talking to them for 30 seconds, could tell you more about that person—who they were and importantly, what kind of person they were—than anybody I’ve ever encountered. That quality and capability really was at the heart in my view of his tremendous success.”

Another one of Jamail’s close friends, Vinson & Elkins partner Harry Reasoner of Houston, said that the loss of Jamail’s friendship will leave a hole in his life.

“Joe was one of the greatest trial lawyers in American history. I was fortunate enough to try some cases with him. I will never forget his genius in the courtroom. But more importantly, he was one of the greatest friends anybody could have. He was always looking for opportunities to help his friends. He was one of the most interesting people: he was widely read, always interesting to talk to, had intelligent, interesting views,” said Reasoner.

The Times notes his most famous case.

The case, in which Pennzoil accused Texaco of improperly interfering with its 1984 deal to buy part of Getty Oil, was Mr. Jamail’s first on behalf of a major corporate client, and it elevated him overnight from the lone star of Texas courtrooms to near-mythical status in American jurisprudence. But if the size of the judgment, from Pennzoil’s point of view, seemed too good to be true — it indeed was.

The [$10.5 billion] judgment withstood appeals, unlike many large awards, but Pennzoil received only a fraction. Texaco, whose net worth was roughly equal to the judgment, was virtually wiped out. Unable even to post a bond to cover the award during appeals, Texaco filed for bankruptcy and settled the case for $3 billion in 1987. Mr. Jamail’s fee was said to be $345 million.

The Chron has a lengthy obituary, and this Texas Monthly profile from January is well worth your time. They don’t make ’em like that any more. Rest in peace, Joe Jamail.

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3 Comments

  1. Many wannabes, only one Joe Jamail. Complete animal in the courthouse. RIP.

  2. Bill Daniels says:

    I really don’t see why there is an outpouring of sympathy and respect for the guy. I mean, good for him that he got all he could, and was a winner. That’s capitalism, personified. Great. But speaking as a consumer, Joe, and people like him, raise the cost of every item I buy. I think of him, and those like him, as private tax collectors, who lower the standard of living for every American, with the exception of themselves, their friends and business associates.

  3. Joe says:

    My standard of living is better when the water I drink, food i eat, medicine I take and air I breathe doesn’t poison me. It’s better when the cars I drive save my life in an accident, and when the appliances I buy don’t fail randomly, explode or catch fire. It’s better when the doctor operating on me has washed her hands, not taken drugs or gotten drunk. And it’s better when the insurance I pay for to cover me in the event of a catastrophe actually pays up when it’s time to pay.

    I fact, my standard of living is better when I’m actually living and not dead from easily preventable mistakes. Joe Jamail and others like him are sometimes the only ones keeping companies from crossing the line in an effort to gain a competitive edge. It’s why we have a 7th amendment and a judicial branch of government.

    It’s also why some folks are able to harbor disdain for folks like Jamail while simultaneously enjoying the benefit of their work.