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November 26, 2004

The politics of statutes at UT

This NY Times article reports on the squabble that has arisen over the University of Texas at Austin's decision to honor famed Houston trial lawyer Joe Jamail with his second statute on the UT campus:

Of the more than a dozen statues peppering the University of Texas campus here, one glorifies the first native-born governor, two pay tribute to deceased American presidents, and others honor Confederate leaders.

Another statue is poised to join the cast on Friday, honoring a graduate who is a successful trial lawyer.

The subject, Joe Jamail, a Houston alumnus who has donated $21.7 million to the university and its athletic programs, already has one bronze likeness at the law school and his name is on several campus sites. The newest statue of Mr. Jamail, who won billions of dollars for Pennzoil in a landmark suit in the 1980's, is scheduled to be unveiled inside the football stadium before the annual game against archrival Texas A&M.

But not everyone looks forward to another likeness. The statue, . . makes Mr. Jamail the only person with two on the 350-acre campus, university officials say, and that distinction has rankled some faculty members.

"One is enough, with due respect to whoever," said a journalism professor, Gene Burd.

The 78 year old Jamail is most famous (notorious?) for persuading a Houston state court jury in 1985 to award 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, Mr. Jamail took the case on a contingency fee, so his piece of the settlement made him one of the wealthiest attorneys in the world.

Over the past 20 years, Mr. Jamail has become a philanthropist, and UT 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 the first statute of him, and the law school's legal research center. The newest statue of Mr. Jamail planned for a corner of the football stadium will be placed near a new statue of the former national champion football coach and UT legend Darrell Royal. By the way, Mr. Jamail paid for the statute of Coach Royal.

To this day, the Pennzoil-Texaco case is most remembered in Houston legal circles for the catastrophic trial decision that Texaco's general counsel made. 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 takeover attempt. However, in support of an alternative defense, Texaco's trial counsel recommended that Texaco put on expert testimony that would contradict Pennzoil's evidence of alleged damages. Texaco's general counsel decided that putting on countervailing damages testimony would be a signal to the jury that Texaco did not confidence in its primary defense, 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!"

Posted by Tom at November 26, 2004 7:35 AM |

Comments

Truly an amazing case......Jamail is really the heavy weight champ...

Posted by: The Peoples Champ at January 26, 2006 12:53 PM

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