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Jumpin' Joe Jamail

Christine Hurt over at Conglomerate points to this William Childs provided-video of an expert witness deposition that provides a glimpse into the well-known (at least in Houston legal circles) combative style of famed Houston plaintiffs lawyer, Joe Jamail.

This clip is a good example of why I require two video cameras during important depositions, one to videotape the deponent and the other to videotape the attorney asking the questions. Taking a video deposition in that manner allows you to provide to the jury or judge at trial a far more interesting video of each participant in the deposition rather than the typically-boring video of only the deponent. As the particularly contentious deposition in the above-linked video proceeded, it appears that about a half-dozen cameras would have been preferable.

As Christine's post notes, the now 80 year-old Jamail is most well-know for persuading a Houston state court jury in 1985 to award Pennzoil a record $11 billion in damages against Texaco for tortiously interfering with Pennzoil's attempted acquisition of Getty Oil. The subsequent judgment prompted Texaco to file a chapter 11 case, which eventually resulted in a settlement of Pennzoil's claim for $3 billion in 1987. Already a wealthy plaintiff's lawyer at the time that Pennzoil hired him, Mr. Jamail took the case on a contingency fee and his piece of the settlement vaulted him into one of the wealthiest attorneys in the United States.

To this day, the Pennzoil-Texaco case is notorious in Houston legal circles for the catastrophic decision that Texaco's general counsel made during the trial. Texaco's main defense was that it was justified in competing with Pennzoil for Getty Oil and, thus, could not have tortiously interfered with Pennzoil's prior takeover attempt. However, in support of an alternative defense, Texaco's trial counsel recommended that Texaco put on expert testimony that would contest Pennzoil's expert testimony on the amount of the alleged damages. During the trial, Texaco's general counsel decided that the case was going so well that putting on countervailing damages testimony would be a signal to the jury that Texaco did not have confidence in its primary defense of justification, so he directed Texaco's trial counsel not to put on any expert damages testimony.

Consequently, when the jury found in favor of Pennzoil on the liability issue, the only damages evidence in the trial record was Pennzoil's. Thus, the $11 billion jury verdict ensued, and the trial record contained inadequate evidence upon which an appellate court could base a decision to reduce the damages.

As they say in defense circles, "Ouch!"

Over the past 20 years, Jamail has become a philanthropist, and the University of Texas has been the main beneficiary of his philanthropy. Sites at the university named for Mr. Jamail include the swim center, the football field, the law school pavilion that contains a statute of him, and the law school's legal research center. A couple of years ago, a controversy erupted within the UT faculty when the UT administration decided to honor Jamail with a second statute of him on the UT campus, this one in a corner of the football stadium near a new statue of legendary UT football coach Darrell Royal.

By the way, Mr. Jamail also paid for that statute of Coach Royal.



Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.