Prominent trial lawyer, UT mega-donor Jamail dies at 90

December 23, 2015

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Joe Jamail, a swashbuckling, billionaire trial lawyer who toppled Texaco in court and so lavished the University of Texas with donations that his name adorns its iconic football field, has died at age 90.

Spokesman Kevin Mortesen said Wednesday that UT Athletic Director Mike Perrin was informed of the death by a close family friend who was with Jamail Tuesday night. Mortesen said no cause of death had been confirmed.

University President Gregory Fenves said via Twitter that UT had ''lost a great friend'' and added in a subsequent statement that Joe and late wife Lee Jamail ''supported academics and athletics, aspiring for UT to be the best university in the country with the highest values of integrity and service.''

Football coach Charlie Strong tweeted that Jamail was ''a true Longhorn Legend.''

Representatives at Jamail's Houston law firm did not return a series of messages seeking more details, and his family couldn't be reached for comment.

Known as ''The King of Torts,'' Jamail was famous for a down-home style that included peppering depositions and even courtroom appearances with curse words and other vulgarities. He represented Pennzoil in a dispute with Texaco and won a colossal $10.5 billion verdict in 1987 that drove Texaco into bankruptcy.

A jury ruled that Texaco interfered with Pennzoil's plans to acquire Getty Oil.

''He was one of the finest attorneys the world has ever known, a Texan who loved his state and his Texas Longhorns,'' former Secretary of State James Baker said in a statement. ''Few have told truth as straightforward and with more force than Joe. And certainly no one has ever done so with as much vigor and color.''

The premise of Pennzoil's case was that a handshake and a person's word was as good as a written contract, and that Texaco violated that rule by plucking Getty from Pennzoil's grasp. Texaco contended Getty had invited it to bid and that there was no valid contract between Pennzoil and Getty because all the papers had not been signed by the appropriate parties.

Attorney's fees, including Jamail's, came to about $400 million. At the time, Jamail declined to reveal his share, saying with a grin: ''I'll spend (the money) on the important things like whiskey and women.''

He gave millions to UT, his alma mater, and the Longhorns play on Joe Jamail Field inside Austin's Royal-Memorial Stadium.

''Joe Jamail was a giant of a man, who made a huge impact in all facets of life,'' Perrin said in a statement.

Former UT football coach Mack Brown called Jamail ''a friend, mentor, confidant, advisor.''

''Joe was one in a million,'' Brown said in a statement. ''He was frank, direct and at times crass, but most importantly, caring and giving.''

In 1995, Forbes magazine ranked Jamail as the nation's No. 1 trial lawyer, with $90 million in earnings the previous year and a then-personal wealth of $800 million. He said when asked about money the following year that it's ''just paper if you pile it up.''

''There's no fun just having it,'' Jamail said. ''The fun is seeing someone have an opportunity.''

Jamail and his wife also gave millions to Rice University, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and to the Baylor College of Medicine, among many other charitable organizations and academic institutions. Lee Jamail died in 2007 after 57 years of marriage.

There was no immediate word on funeral arrangements.


Eds: Associated Press Writer Michael Graczyk contributed to this report from Houston.

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