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Interview with: Joe Jamail
Interviewed by: Paul Hobby
Date: December 11, 2007
PH: It is December 11, 2007. We are in the offices of Jamail and Kolius, interviewing Joseph Jamail. Icon. Paul Hobby is the interviewer. David Goldstein is the biographer. Joe, you and I have known each other a long time so this is going to be colloquial and comfortable and no reason that it should not be that way. Can you, for the benefit of people who are going to watch this tape or read this transcript who do not know you, just kind of establish yourself in place and time? You are from Houston, you lived most of your life here but where were you born, what did your folks do, where did you go to school? Give me some of that.
JJ: I was born in Houston in a house at 404 Everton Street, which is just off the corner of Milby and Harrisburg. You could see what was then downtown Houston from there, I remember, growing up. Loving family. I went to Blessed Sacrament School, Catholic school. It was 2 blocks away. You could walk to it. The problem was I had to walk by some people's houses who didn't go to the Catholic school but who went to the public schools and I got picked on by some of those boys a good bit going to school because things were just . . . it wasn't malicious, it was just gangs. Not the kind you've got today. Until I finally found an equalizer. We all carried book satchels. I had the idea I was a good marble player so I tied a bunch of marbles in a sock and the next time this bigger boy came at me, I nailed him with that. I think he must have been out a week because nobody bothered me again. But I grew up kind of normally. There were Jamails everywhere. We lived in a compound. Uncles, aunts, cousins, whatever. My dad and his brother, Jim . . . there were 2 Jims - not the one on Kirby, his older brother . . . they started out in the old Farmer's Market which was over on Preston then. I remember going over there when I was 5 or 6 years old. They sold vegetables off tables. People would come in horses and buggies. We are talking about 1930. Your grandparents were some of their customers.
PH: Did you work in the grocery business, do you know?
JJ: I was not there so much. I was too young. But later on, they opened some stores with a grocery firm called Grocery Supply Company. But the Jamail Brothers, that was their name - my dad and his brother - they owned the produce section outright and were large shareholders in the rest of them, but they owned it outright. So, that is where the money was anyway. So, they wound up with, I think 18 or 20 stores. They had 2 in Beaumont, 2 in Galveston, and the rest here. So, as a child, I grew up on weekends, Saturdays, carrying out packages and making nickel and dime tips. A pretty good tip in those days ________.
PH: The store I remember the best was the one that was Shepard.
JJ: That was my dad's older brother who was part of Jamail Brothers. When they sold, they were called ABC Stores, when they sold those, it was Kroger's entrance into Texas. Henke and Pillot had 4 stores, the old family, and they merged with ABC for some reason I never understood, and then Kroger took them over. ABC and Henke. And, for a long time, the Kroger stores here were called Kroger Henke or Henke Kroger for about 6 months here. Then, that changed and Kroger took over.
Well, I grew up in the grocery business selling bananas, doing what you had to do. I loved it. People were just different in those days. You could go to a grocery store and for $2, fill up 2 great big buggies full of groceries. I grew up during the Depression. There was a place here called the old Farmer's Meat Market and it was near the old Produce Farmer's Market. It is almost where the old _______ used to be held. I remember one summer, my dad would take me with him because I was not a very obedient child and Mama had 3 others to contend with, so he would take me with him and drop me at one of the stores where I would carry out packages. I was rich. Man, I would come home with 3 or 4 bucks jingling money in my pocket. I remember one morning, I saw this huge line of people and I asked my dad what it was about, what was the line about? I had to be 5, maybe 6, maybe 7. He said, "Those are hungry people. They are waiting for something to eat." I said, "Well, why?" He tried to explain to me what the Depression was. People were out of work. And I remember crying. He had to take me back home. I couldn't believe these were grown men and women out there, with children, trying to beg for something to eat. So, that made an impression on me.
Houston was, I think probably maybe the rest of the country was that way . . . they called them bums and hobos. They weren't bums and hobos. They were guys that would leave their families, were walking the streets trying to find something to eat and would work. I remember my mama always had a huge pot of stew and whoever came to that door got something to eat. All the people I knew were that way, who were helpful.
Houston began to change, I guess, when the war came along. I remember that very well. I went to St. Thomas High School. As I told you earlier, there were only 5 high schools, public high schools, when I was growing up: Sam Houston, San Jacinto, Milby, Jeff Davis and Reagan. Lamar and Austin came a little later. So, everybody pretty much knew everybody. Every Saturday, you would gang up over down in front of the Metropolitan Theater. There was a drugstore called Dearsi's (sp?), and it would split the two theaters, the Metropolitan and the Loews. You could get a milkshake for a nickel. It was a hell of a deal. Everybody would hang out. So, pretty much everybody knew everybody and got along.
Then, things, I think, began to really . . . you could see from our house all the flares burning in Pasadena. They were just burning gas oil. There was just no use for it. That is when World War II started. Things, I noticed, began to change. I don't know, I can't describe the feeling. It looked patriotic. Maybe it was. A lot of it seemed relief that we were going to go someplace, the army or somewhere, and get something to eat because we had fallen back into a recession after a few years. I remember my dad and my uncle, with a call from the recruiting offices, opened up the stores that Sunday afternoon so recruiting officers could come and enlist people to go off to war. I remember that well.
The big change in Houston to me, other than my own personal experiences, occurred with the mass migration after World War II. We had good climate. We don't think so but if you are in the snow 7 or 8 months, I guess you would think so. Not only did the politics begin to change, that sort of friendly atmosphere was greatly diminished, let me put it that way. I am not going to say it disappeared but it was obvious. I had been gone off to the Marine Corps 3 years, came back and I thought I had come off of Mars or somewhere.
PH: Now, was this a demographic shift, north to south or was it an ethnic shift? Was the ethnicity of the city different?
JJ: No. When I grew up, everything was segregated: schools, churches, God. Everything was segregated. It is difficult to explain. There was a certain respect between the groups. I didn't see anybody being beat up or lynching or what have you. But there was a certain respect between the groups. Now, the Latinos, they were outnumbered by the likes maybe 2 to 1. We did not even see many of them here early. It was after World War II that the influx began. No, I did not see any . . . I am sure there was some dysharmony but the schools, there were 2 black schools - Yates and Booker T. Washington, where all the black students went. And a strange enough thing - when they would play a football game against each other, the stands would be 3/4 white to go watch them play. I am telling you. I know I am not doing this well enough but there was just a very noticeable change in the attitude of people towards people. It was. It seemed as though after World War II, we were in such a hurry - we had missed 3, 4, 5 years, some of them 5 years - and they were playing catch up. I guess from the statistics I read, that was the highest period for divorces in the history of said time. I guess people were living in these little houses that they threw up which were tomorrow's slums, house buys 30 foot lots, 40 foot lots. You were practically living in somebody's living room.
PH: Have we ever slowed down?
PH: That's Houston, isn't it?
JJ: Yes, and that is part of what makes it vibrant, I guess. I am trying to relate back to something that was that could never be again - a sleepy little town, which it was. We walked to town. You rode the bus for a nickel and got a transfer so you rode home on the same nickel. The movie cost a nickel. Popcorn was a nickel. James Coney Island were 3 for a dime. A big old gorge on 50 cents. It was a hell of a deal.
PH: Who was the first mayor that you remember?
JJ: I think that I remember basically it was Holcombe, as I recall, but he had been there since God was here. Who was mayor before Holcombe? Fonville. I vaguely remember Fonville. He may have come after. I don't remember. But I knew that Mayor Holcombe, I had met him because he was a friend of my dad and my uncle.
The two biggest buildings in town were the Gulf Building and the Esperson Building. That was it.
PH: I almost remember that. I remember the Gulf Building being the tallest building. Well, before we move on to your adult life and the things you have done, I remember a newspaper story about you years ago. There was a woman who was down on her luck for some reason and her last name was Jamail, and you stepped up and provided for her need, whatever it was. I don't even remember now if it was a car or groceries or a house or something. But you just sort of had that sense of taking care of your own, whether or not she was technically kin to you or not. That sounds like it goes back to your mama and that pot of stew.
JJ: Yes. Most of what is any good about me, I learned from my mom and my dad. There are things you don't learn in law school, you don't learn in any school. This lady was . . . I remember on of the people on your family's newspaper called me. You all had that big Post at the time. I think it was ______, he called to tell me there was a woman under the bridge here that was living in a cardboard box along with some others, freezing cold, and she says her name is Jamail and she says she is your cousin but she does not want to bother you. I said, "Where are you?" and he told me. I said, "Lead me, I want to go down and see her." So, I go down there and she told me that she had been married to a sea captain whose name was Jamail. She lived in Galveston. Well, that made me skeptical because all of my ancestors came out of the desert and had spent thousands of years trying to get out of it. So, it was unusual. Anyway, I had no reason not to believe her. So, I came back here and got . . . do you want to hear this?
JJ: I got a couple of boxes of hundred dollar bills and went down there - there must have been 70, 80 people down there - so I started giving them $100 dollar bills. Pretty soon, the line grew and some of my friends heard about it, drove down there and got in line. But I called my cousin, Albert, that had a store on Kirby and got him to send over a bunch of smoked hams and turkeys and stuff. Then, I got her an apartment and somebody to take care of her. She lived another couple of years.
PH: Well, good for you. You know who that sounds like, don't you? It sounds like Jim West. I don't know about any other city but you don't hear stories like that very often - people walking around handing out money, for all the right reasons.
JJ: Well, you know, what are you going to do? It was Christmas.
PH: That is exactly right.
JJ: I did not do it out of guilt. I feel better giving. Making money has always been real easy for me. The real thrill to me is giving and one of the things I am proudest of is that Bea and I have, up to now, have and have had over 4,000 students on scholarship at UT Austin alone.
PH: Well, we touched on this a little bit in Jack Blanton's interview. You know, we all want to say Houston is different and it is hard to put your finger on why, but there have been a lot of people who dedicated their fortunes, alive and by bequest, led by Jesse Jones and Governor Hogg, I guess, they left their fortune to a city. You know, that is not normal. Most people leave it to an art museum or to a cause or to an organization.
JJ: Something that's got their name on it.
PH: Yes. To leave your fortune to a city, you know, with a sort of broad mandate, I think is unusual. Certainly, you have done a lot of that in your life.
JJ: In the skate park - you can see it from here . . .
PH: I have been there, yes.
JJ: I don't know anything about skateboarding. I would not get on one of those things. But Laura Randall and Nina Zilka, whom I have known since they were babies and some others, came up here _______. They were embarrassed. They said, "We need you to do something." I said, "What is that?" They said, "Skateboarding is a big thing. Everybody likes it. And we don't have one. And the city is willing to give us this little piece of property." You can see it out that window. It was off Allen Parkway. "We need to raise a million and a half dollars. Can you help us do it?" I said, "Well, I don't skateboard." I was just jacking with them. I said, "Well, how are poor kids going to get there? That thing is pretty secluded." You can look out the window and see it. Mayor White is behind it. You've got Metro ______ to run busses hourly every area of town and put a bus stop right at that entrance. So, they could get on the bus. Skateboards are not expensive. Get a skateboard. Get back on the bus and go home. And then, there is an area, a picnic area for parents and what have you. So, what I made sure was for everybody . . . I said, "Excuse me a minute." I went ahead and had Denise write them a check for a million and a half dollars and they built a skateboard park.
PH: You have always worked that way. Thank you for your generosity.
JJ: Well, Paul, your family has been more generous than almost any family in this whole city.
PH: Oh, well, I don't know about that. Let's move forward and sort of talk about school and the decision to become a lawyer and other careers you considered. You washed out in the grocery business? Is that a fair deduction?
JJ: Well, I didn't wash out, I got washed out. When I got home from the Marine Corps, I had been gone a long . . . I spent 27 months overseas but I came home and thought, well, you know, that I invented whiskey; there's something I've discovered here, something we did not have out there. And I would lay around there drinking at night, go to the Hyatt (sp?) night club where all the kids gathered. Most of us were still in uniform because we did not have any civilian clothes. There was another story about that but anyway, I would get home around 3 in the morning, looped. Finally, one morning about I guess 4 o'clock or so, my dad came in my room, shook me, "Get up." My dad was a big man, much bigger than me. "Get up." He said, "You are worrying your mama. You got to get out of here and find a job. Find you something to do. Go to school. Do something." He said, "Don't give me this crap about the war. I was in the big war." He served in World War I. He never let me forget it. So, I left. He loaned me one of the cars. I made it as far as Lafayette, Louisiana. I ran into a guy in a bar there that I still talk to, later became a judge named Khalist Saloom (sp?). We got to drinking. I am spending my ______ pay on this buxom bar lady. I mean, I was just taken with her. Finally, we talked. He was a lawyer. I went to his office the next day. He is on the phone trying to dial numbers and stuff. I said, "What are you doing?" He said, "Well, I just gave some advice. I charged him $25." I said, "You charged $25 for that bullshit?" He said, "Yes." "God damn, this is my bag." So, I thought about becoming a lawyer at that time.
Some other things happened that I don't think are of any interest here. I had to leave town. I went back to the University of Texas. We were the forerunner of what became plan 2. Dean Pardon, take what you wanted. I don't even know if it had a name. Before I had gone off to the Marine Corps, I got out of St. Thomas when I was 16, so I went to A&M where I stayed for 3 days and jumped out a window and escaped and hitchhiked to Austin. I had been at boys school for as long as I intended to be.
PH: This is good stuff.
JJ: So, I get to Austin. "What are you going to take?" I said, "I am going to be a doctor. I am going to be premed." So, I take German, zoology, biology, chemistry - all this stuff that you never hear after you get out of school again. So, I made promptly 5 F's. I didn't go to class and I didn't take the time. I just went over and forged my mama and daddy's names to enlistment papers and joined the Marine Corps. I wasn't quite 17. They called me up, I was 17. And off I went. So, when I came back, I said, "This premed ain't for me. I can't do that. I've seen enough blood anyway. I don't need to fool with this." So, I decided I would think about law. We were running wild. We were all veterans. UT didn't any more look like UT now than it looks like Ethiopia. It was wild. Classrooms, there were about 1,200 in my geology lecture class. All the guys were groping at the girls. It was a hell of a scene.
PH: But you graduated there in 1950?
JJ: I got my degree in 1950. I had 160 hours but I had not had math. You had to have math. There wasn't any way I was going to pass math. It is like I told you, the only math I can do is divide by thirds and I learned that after I went to law school on contingency fees! So, I took home economics cooking as a science course. Passed it, too.
PH: See, there are some things maybe you shouldn't even tell in an oral history.
JJ: Hey, they are trying to get me to do another book. This last one I did was on Barnes & Noble's best sellers list for months.
PH: That is Mickey Herskowitz?
JJ: Yes. But anyway, I did not know you had to take an exam to go to law school, to get in. I just went over and started in class. Nobody said anything. So, Dean Keaton who was a great dean . . . I took the Bar on a dare 8 months before I finished school. I did ______ on some of my buddies who were studying like hell for it. And so, I was so stupid - I didn't know you had to file a declaration of intent to practice law when you entered law school. So, I had to drive to Houston, Lee and I were married in 1949, we just got married, and there were only about 3 or 4 female lawyers in Houston. One of them was in charge of that, her name was Billie Russell, and I will never forget her. She laughed and laughed. She met me on a Saturday morning and signed a waiver for me and I took it back and we bet $100 that I could not pass it. Well, Dean Woodward learned me . . . there were several courses I had not had and several of the professors loaned me their notes. I read them over the weekend. So, I go and take the Bar. I didn't think I had a chance to pass it but I could take it again. So, a couple of months later, they have given out the slips. There was a beer joint called Hillsburgs which was right across from the old law school where we all hung out. They all went over and I wouldn't go over. Finally, they hurrahed me so bad, I went over. Mary Lou was Dean Keaton's secretary and she knew about the bet and she handed you your grade hands down, face down. She looked up and said, "Joe, I am sorry." I had my grade - they were all standing around, and I looked at that thing - I said, "God damn, I've overtrained. I made a 76." I knew 75 was passing. So, I was a lawyer. I still had a summer and a full semester to go.
PH: Did they pay up?
JJ: Oh, yes. We drank beer all day and all of that night.
PH: O.K. That was Denzel Beavers?
JJ: How do you know that? Yes.
PH: I did a little work before I came up here.
JJ: It was Denzel Beavers, Jerry Johnson and a whole group of them.
PH: But you graduated there in 1953 and then you came to work for the same place I came to work for when I graduated from UT Law School.
JJ: I went to work at Fulbright. I stayed 20 minutes.
PH: I stayed about 2-1/2 years.
JJ: Wasted, my boy. I remember when you came to talk to me.
PH: Yes, you do.
JJ: But I stayed 20 minutes, went in and told ________. Lee was making $400 a month teaching school. They were paying me $200 a month. And I had to wear a little hat and I hated wearing the God damn hat. And so, I was in there for about 20 minutes and they had this mean looking old lady, she came in and brought me a yellow pad and a stamp and the stamp said Fulbright, Freeman, Crooker and Bates. That was the name of the firm them. She gave me a long list of you will not do, you will not do, and I practiced with that stamp for about 5 minutes. I threw that son-of-a-bitch in the garbage, got up, went over to Hideman's office and said, "We both made a mistake. I am fixing mine. I am gone." He said, "Sit down." I did. He said, "If you are going to leave, you'd better leave now because if you stay, you will buy a house, a car, a washing machine, and I will own you." I said, "Ain't gonna happen, big boy. I am out of here." So, I left and went down to the DA's office.
PH: Yes, some things don't change. They call that the velvet handcuffs today. And I did the same thing; 2-1/2 years later, went to the U.S. Attorney's office because I was bored and could afford the pay cut and a lot of my cohorts could not. So, I was fortunate in that respect. But the part of the personal highlight reel that I want to play because it is germane to a major event in your career is I remember like it was yesterday, we were in Gabriel McDonald's chambers and I was clerking for Al Ebert at Andrews Kurth. He was representing the King Ranch. Joe Foy and you were representing Exxon.
JJ: Bobby Shelton.
PH: You were representing Bobby Shelton, that's right. The big old nasty long lawsuit between the oil and gas mineral holders and the land owners and the King Ranch.
JJ: It had gone on for 23 years.
PH: Yes, it was lawyers, full employment deal, but it was major litigation by the standards of that day. And so, they were finally trying to pick a trial. The other thing I remember about that meeting was I learned something about practicing law and sort of taking a negative and turning it into a positive. You had forgotten to file a jury demand in federal court and it was clear to me that you were surprised that that had not happened but that you instantly said, "Oh, well, that is because we had so much faith in you, Judge McDonald, we just didn't feel like a jury was necessary." It was improvisation and it was good stuff. But the point of the story is that we were trying to pick a trial date and everybody had their calendar. You said, "Well, I can't do it on September such and such because I've got a little lawsuit between Texaco and Getty Oil Company and Hewlett P is my client. It is no big deal. It is just about an eleven billion dollar lawsuit. That is billion with a B." And the point of that story is that I think you saw that case for what it was - it wasn't like something that happened in your life as a lottery ticket. Everybody laughed. Of course, an 11 billion dollar verdict - what a joke that would be. But I thought back on that many times - you had a vision, you had a sense of what was to come.
JJ: I always thought I could win it. But I stood alone in that thought. I think he thought so towards the end.
PH: Well, my only other intersection with those events was . . . well, two more. When I got to Fulbright, of course Fulbright had been hired by Texaco post bankruptcy and they turned the whole 51st floor into a war room. And you had lawyers billing 30 hours a day and it didn't really matter; I mean, as you know, it was just a full alarm fire drill that your verdict had created. A good thing for Fulbright . . .
JJ: Well, it changed the whole structure of how corporate America began doing its mergers and acquisitions.
PH: I think it did.
JJ: It is taught in every law school in the country now. Good faith. There is something to good faith ________.
PH: Well, the funny part is, years later, I guess I was married at the time. Laura Farris got married at Lanes End Farm and they had a reception out in the middle of the field with a big white tent.
JJ: I was there.
PH: Do you remember who else was there that you were chasing around the tent?
PH: That is exactly right.
JJ: I was sticking it on his ass like a mustard plaster.
PH: Well, tell the audience who Kinear is relative to those events.
JJ: Kinear was the president of Texaco and he was in a war with a man named Decrane (sp?) who had been general counsel. They were vying for ascendancy for when McKinley, the chairman of the board, stepped down. McKinley was not an indecent man but typical corporate exec. Decrane, on the other hand, was a vicious sort of person. I was able to cross-examine McKinley and because he was, I thought, matched up the way I wanted to match it up, made him admit almost everything. Well, at best, we were only negligent, things like this, but it was Decranes notes that really hurt them. He was a Notre Dame graduate so you are not talking about some layman. I had his handwritten notes which I made into a suppository and fed him. His handwritten notes said Pennzoil Getty, only an oral agreement. Well, treasury stock, $24 million. May be a way to take care of Litke. He ate that letter by letter. I really did a job on it, because I did not like him. Arrogant. He wasn't too damn arrogant when he left that stand. But if you want to know, I could tell you briefly how . . . I knew that I had to do something different because how are you going to get excited about one big oil company fighting with another oil company? Where am I going to get the glamour? Where is the romance coming from? If I've got a blinded child or a mutilated child or a working man who has been stripped of his working powers and his pride with it, you could get some emotion into that. So, I decided I had to do something different. So, I had decided years ago _____ pick a jury long before Pennzoil, I would have a chart back in that room - I will show it to you some time in that room - with just blanks, and I will have my characterization of my plaintiff who is exhibit 1 always - that is who they look at. And all his characteristics, whether he is gregarious, whether he is shy ______ what he is. Then, I try to figure out which type of jury . . . you can't figure out by color, by occupation . . . most likely would be receptive to that particular type of personality. So, I did that at Pennzoil. So, I decided right away I needed people with long marriages, long church affiliations, loyalty, really, commitment to the Word. Well, I knew I needed that because that is what we were about. So, we got ready to pick this jury. _________ for the most part. We would up sitting there with . . . let me tell you, John Jeffers was about as good a help . . . I don't think I could have won it without him. He was that good. And Irv Terrell. The whole team. So, they looked at me. I had _________, they said "You are going to wind up with 8 or 9 women on this jury." I said, "So?" "Well, they can't think in terms of that kind of money." I was getting all of this criticism. So, I remember turning to a couple of them and saying, "Didn't you have a mother? Who in the family taught you mostly right from wrong and not to lie or cheat?" Well, forget it . . . so I go in the men's room where I go in every moment of stress and I cut the jury sitting by myself in there, standing in there, came back and said, "All right, boys, let's go." So, we went up with 8 women, 4 guys. They almost hung. They agreed on the $7.5 billion axle but 7 of the 8 women were insisting on $7.5 billion in punitive. They hung for a day on it. I am dying. 3 is enough, 4 is enough.
I did something different in that case. The judge, as you know, always instructs the jury, and I will get off this in a minute, that don't make up your mind until they hand you the evidence, hear all the evidence, keep an open mind. Well, I don't know about you guys but I have tried to talk to people with open minds before and it is like talking to a God damn toilet seat. Nothing registers. They've got ricochet eyes. It bounces off. You've got to make them decide. So, what I decided to do . . . I put one of their witnesses on who was in contest with one of our main witnesses. I did what I called match up. It had never been done before. Now, they teach it everywhere. For instance, I put on Kerr then Decrane. Counterpart. Decide right here which one of these guys is telling the truth. Put on McKinley and Litke. Make your decision. Which one of these guys is telling the truth? Put on Marty Lipton, who was the world's biggest takeover lawyer and then put on, oh, my friend from Paul Weiss who just died. A good lawyer. And he was on it. They were making their minds up because I was making them make their minds up. If you wait until the end of the case, hell, they forgot what he said 6 months ago. So, that was a real innovation in that case that we did that. It truly did change the way Americans did business.
The law had changed, let me get off of that . . . when I began practice, an injured person had very little chance to win a case. The juries had to be unanimous and be 12 to 0. And if the plaintiff was 1% at fault, he was barred totally. There was a general charge called unavoidable accident that barred you. Well, we were able to change that. I was responsible for a lot of those changes. Through the years, we were able to change it. I have 10 to 2 verdicts. We have joint _______ get 50%, you get 50% rather than nothing. We have changed a lot of things and a lot of things have changed for the worst since this tort reform thing started. Your dad appointed me the first lawyer for the state to try to work that out, which we did on limited punitive 401. But, at any rate, to pick out a certain group of people and say to that group of people, you are not responsible for your actions, you don't have any accountability, you can go and blind a child giving birth to a child and we are going to charge you $250,000, that is wrong, to me. It is right to them unless it is their child. Then, it is a different story. I have had some of those reformers come up here screaming about what had happened what they helped do. Sorry. Go take it up with the Legislature. You guys wanted it, you got it. I just believe in responsibility and accountability for your own actions. They say, well . . . and you may have heard me make this argument . . . pain nowhere on the planet is as cheap as it is in the courtroom. It is worthless in the courtroom, according to them. We spend more money trying to relieve pain in this country on everything except defense and we can't do it, and I have argued it _______ now. Well, I am not sure. I just tried a case in Beaumont where it worked real well. If you believe in your government . . . they say it is all right to kill somebody, you just can't hurt them. No cruel and unusual punishment. Go ahead and burn him. Give him a shot of that cyanide. But make sure he doesn't suffer. [end of tape 1, side 1]
JJ: If you are a religious person, you know that God himself created hell to punish and the one thing he put in Hell was the thing he thought most painful: fire. So, only in the courtroom is it achieved. Nowhere else. I resent what has happened in the law. Now, you've got the federal government claiming that, pretty much individuals can't sue under the SEC for certain cheating, robbing, stealing, lying, whatever. Our personal rights are being attacked, have been for years, and every time they get attacked and every time some egoist wants to grab power, he invokes some hocus-pocus wartime thing where people will trade their freedom for safety. Now, that is a bad problem. Lawyers have failed miserably, and I have made this speech. They ought to be in the second and third grade teaching civics about what lawyers have done. We've got a constitution because of lawyers. Declaration of Independence because of lawyers. And I suppose I have been told that I have tried more cases to verdict than any lawyer in America. And there is no substitute for the jury trial. None.
PH: Well, to try to bring us a back a little bit, Pennzoil versus Texaco obviously it changed your life in terms of your profile, it changed your life in terms of your financial independence, it made you the "king of torts" and brought some attention probably favorable and unfavorable. The most unfavorable attention probably goes back to the 60 Minutes piece which some people would say was a catalyst for what has gone forward and that the tort reform is not like any other pendulum. It will swing too far one way and it will swing too far the other way. It is the way public policy works. But talk about 60 Minutes.
JJ: 60 Minutes got angry with me because I would not let them tape me, so they surreptitiously did a tape. I said, "No, you are not leaving me on your cutting room floor." There was a reason for this. Larry Tish owned CBS. Larry Tish was a board member of Getty. I had him on the Span for a half a day. It was Larry Tish's admission that finally drove the last nail in it. He was very arrogant, grandfather-looking. I could be real rough with Marty Lipton. He was a lawyer. The jury wanted to see some blood. Tish was grandfatherly-like. They put him on to prove, I guess, that he was worth $2 billion or $3 billion. I liked the sound of it. Get this jury acclimatized for billions. Very early in the case, there was an exhibit and I think the exhibit number is 146 - I am not sure - but I had made a copy of it. My trial notebook is not any thicker than that. The briefcase _________. What I am using is what I need. I had it tucked away knowing it would become important somehow, somewhere. So, he is on the witness stand. And they had proven nothing, no deal, there wasn't any deal, that Getty voted 15 to 1 on price only. They had too many things to work out. So, I proved from him very quietly that he was an expert at this, he had been through mergers and acquisitions on many occasions. Very familiar with every facet of it. Drug him out as sometimes I'd do. And he was getting exasperated with me. He said, "Are you having any difficulty understanding the English language?" I said, "Well, sometimes I do but most times, I am fairly capable." "Bear with me. You've done this before." I said. "These investment bankers, when do they send you a bill?" He said, "Only after the deal is done." I said, "Explain that for me." He said, "What about that needs explaining?" I said, "You mean after a contract has been reached, the deal is finished, it is all over with?" "Yes." I said, "Well, are you sure about that?" And he looked at the judge and he said, "Judge, can't you get him to just stop this repeating his questions to me? I have answered his questions." I said, "Well, bear with me. Maybe I am not as smart as I need to be. Are you sure about this?" He said, "Yes, I am sure." He said, "They wouldn't know what to charge otherwise. They charge a percentage but unlike you, they don't charge as much." All right. Take a look at this. Now, the critical date in all of this is January 3. That is when we said we made the deal, that night. "What is the date on this?" He looked at it and he wouldn't answer. I said, "Well, what is it?" He said, "Well, it is a bill from the investment banker for Getty Oil Company." I said, "For how much?" "26 million bucks" or something. "Read the date on it, Mr. Tish." He wouldn't do it. I said, "Mr. Tish, you are going to have to do it." He mumbled it. I got up and walked to the back of the courtroom and I said, "I couldn't hear you. Say it again louder." So, he said the date again loud and I said, "What ________. Does that look like a done deal to you, Mr. Tish?" He just glared at me. "Mr. Tish, you have to answer." "Yes." So, he paid me the highest compliment. As he was walking out of the courtroom, like I am sitting here and the jury is here, he walked right by me, he looked down and he said, "You son-of-a-bitch." I said, "Thank you, Mr. Tish." The jury could hear it. I loved it! But see, he owned CBS and I knew they were going to do a hatchet job. I told him I would meet them but it had to be live. I met Mike Wallace and this crew over at Ottos on Memorial. That is when I got up, popped the camera away and walked off. But then later on at a Bar convention that I attended with Texaco's lawyer, Jim Sales, he was standing right next to me. They print that shit and I knew what they liked to do with it - make it look like some kind of a fraud and what have you.
I got a letter once - this might interest you. I got a letter . . . I was the subject of two front-page editorials in the Wall Street Journal. One of them was after we finalized Texaco. The big headline said, "Merry Christmas, Mr. Jamail." They claim I am the only winner; that I got all this money and I gave this judge $10,000. I did not give $10,000 to that judge. I gave $10,000 to Richard Keaton who was the lawyer for Texaco who was that judge's campaign finance manager. That is what happened. And the records are clear. They had a hearing on it. The records are clean on it. So, they write this article that I am the only winner and I made a $750 million fee is what they claimed. Taxes were 28% that year. At any rate, I never wrote a letter to a publisher in my life, so I said, I've got to write a letter. So, I write the board of directors of the Wall Street Journal and who ever runs the thing and I thank them very much for their editorial. I told them it was much appreciated and would they continue to continue to do it because each time they did, I had to enlarge my reception area because don't you know, everybody wants a crooked lawyer? I never heard another word from these bastards. Not another word.
PH: You know, you are associated with the plaintiff side of the Bar and certainly that is consistent with the things you said today and what a travesty tort reform has become, in your opinion. You like to say that yourself, that you are a lawyer with neither prefix nor suffix; in other words, you don't want to exclusively associate yourself with either side of the docket because you do lots of different kinds of cases.
JJ: I don't. I don't belong to any of those groups.
PH: Right, and culturally, you don't run with that pack, by my observation and everybody else's observation. But it is true that you have alluded to the fact that my dad relied on you as the voice of reason to cut tort reform deals that were reasonable by the standards of that day. When I worked for Governor Bullock as his chief of staff, you also served in that role.
JJ: I did.
PH: If you will remember, you and Mr. Gallagher, I think, were the honest brokers in the equation that people really trusted to find fairness in the law.
JJ: Well, you have to include Morris Atlas in that thing.
PH: That is true. Morris Atlas was in there.
JJ: On the defense side.
PH: And so was Shannon Ratliff (sp?).
PH: So, those were really . . . the guys that would cut the tort reform deals back before TLR were really those 4 guys: Morris, Atlas, Shannon Ratliff and yourself and Mike Gallagher. So, talk about your association with the plaintiffs bar and which side of the docket, and just why you have chosen to hold yourself independent?
JJ: Well, I wish I could answer that in some way. I have always, as a child, been pretty independent. I never believed that you ought to farm groups to go and try to influence the courts and ______. Common law is too sacred for me. And I just thought that those groups that farmed themselves into that were done so by defense and plaintiff bar to gain some advantage in the Legislature or the courts and I was opposed to it. I was a member of the Texas Trial Lawyers years and years ago but have not been for years. I just believe I can try a case on this . . . I just got through representing the law firm of Vinson Elkins in the Enron matter and won all of them. Now, my standing in the plaintiffs bar, this is not modest but I can't think of anything to be modest about . . . when they want to meet, they meet up here, they come to me. They trust me and they know I am not going to do some crazy . . . I don't know what it is but they do trust me.
PH: I think that is true.
JJ: They do. We had a meeting up here recently. It was John Eddie Williams, Walter Humphrey, Fleming, the whole bunch. I met with the whole group. Everybody was here.
PH: Well, the person on that list that you didn't name is on the file folder behind you. You recent had some adverse dealings with John O'Quinn who, you know, some would want to call the latter day king of torts. Talk about O'Quinn for a second.
JJ: John O'Quinn has written me letters - I won't divulge . . . except that he praises me, he wants my friendship, he refers to me as the only king of torts which is bullshit anyway. What is the king of . . . I think it is nonsense. At any rate, contrary to what people think, I have no animosity to John. I feel very sorry for the way he is conducting himself because I didn't think he needed to do it that way. Now, I have had these 2 cases against him that cost him millions and millions of dollars, because he was found to have breached his fiduciary duty to his clients and there is no bigger sin to an honest lawyer than that. When you take on a client's case, they put their confidence and their faith in you and you betray that, you lose me. So, I don't have any animosity towards him, I am going to do whatever I can do to leave the Bar at least as good as I found it, and I found it in great shape. I don't think he has done that. And that is the only reason. Hell, I sued other lawyers. Those cases didn't come to me, they were referred to me by other lawyers who felt as though they weren't capable of handling them, or for whatever reason. You know, the last thing we did this thing with O'Quinn was a couple of years ago. I represented one of his young partners that he finally had to pay millions to, and one of the requirements of the settlement was that I would agree to have a picture taken with him that he could put in his office. So, I had to look at it - this is weird. I just rolled this guy for millions and millions of dollars. You know, the truth is I don't really hate anybody because at my age, it is too late to properly hate the sons-of-bitches. You just have to be very selective, Paul, on that end. Hate uses too much energy.
PH: I agree. It shortens your life, not theirs.
JJ: If I wanted to hate, I've got a guy in mind.
PH: I understand.
JJ: And you know who he is.
PH: I understand. We can go there if you want to but not yet.
JJ: No, I don't think the oral history of Houston requires that.
PH: Let's talk about friendships. You have made allusions to old friends. A fellow in Louisiana and the fellow you had the bet with in Austin about the Bar exam. I think you are famous for your friendships, you know, and I would list among those great friendships that I know that you have had, Jim Kronzer. You took me and my dad to Randalls out there on 45 one day . . .
JJ: I remember it well. You were too young to be in there.
PH: I was too young to be in there. I think of Fayez Sarofim. Darrell Royal. My father.
JJ: Your dad.
PH: You are famous for your friendships. Talk about who they are, how it has changed over time; obviously, some of them have gone on to memory here in the last year or two.
JJ: There are so many and I am grateful for every one of them. Everybody you meet in your life, I think, plays some role in your success. Friends can be a big influence. As you know, Lee died this year. My friends have been so supportive. Your mom and dad have been very supportive. They call.
PH: I want to talk about Lee at some point because obviously there is no Joe without Lee. I have had strong personal feelings there.
JJ: At any rate, there are so many. George Sire was a good friend. George and I, we godfathered each other's children. We both went to St. Thomas. He was 2 years ahead of me. We both were in the Marine Corps. We practiced law together. He is the only real partner I have ever had. I never had another partner. His little girl, Denton Cooley was operating on her. She was what was then called a blue baby. She had a heart defect. She died. She was frail. So, he decided he did not want to practice anymore. So, Governor Connally appointed him to the bench. We remained close to his death. I used to go by and shave him every other morning while he was sick. I used to tell him, "You son-of-a-bitch, you can shave yourself!" He looked at me and he said, "You cowardly bastard. Shave me! Go get that razor." We were good friends. Jack McConn was also a friend.
PH: I didn't know that.
JJ: Yes. Good friends. We all traveled together. There were so many. Curtis Brown. Jack Josey - older - was a dear friend. Very helpful to me. Judge Spurgeon Bell was a big influence in my life. Even _______. We went all over the world together. John Mackeldowney, a lawyer over in Galveston, was fun. He just died. There have been just so many of them. I am really grateful to have had them, and I think I never took them for granted. I enjoyed being around them. As you know, I like to have my drinks and drinking alone is no fun. You've got to have somebody that will listen to your bullshit and pretend they like it, at least. John Kennedy was a friend of mine. Lloyd Bentsen was a friend of mine. Lloyd was the chairman of the finance committee for the Gulf Coast and the Kennedy/Johnson ticket. I was the token vice-chairman because I was on the liberal wing of the party. I was offered the U.S. attorneyship when they were elected but I could not live on $10,500 a year. I started to make money at that point. I didn't want that anyway. So, I got them to get Woodrow Seals to do it. Frankie Randolph ran the Democratic party for years, took me under her wing. People were good to me. I started making a name for myself the first week I went to the DA's office. I guess I am a natural born ham.
PH: You guess? You figured that out by now?
JJ: I am convinced of it. They had these cages over there, nobody wanted to try. Before you were born, I guess. They were building the Katy Freeway. They had these appraisers, city appraisers, and they would go by there. These were all shanties, shotgun houses. They would probably be honestly appraised at a couple of thousand dollars, $5,000. Well, they would go by and they would make appraisals like $12,500 and said, "We are going to give you $5,000 and we are going to keep $5,000," whatever. Well, they got mad. I got to thinking then . . . anyway, I tried it. God, we had 3 papers then: The Post, The Press, The Chronicle. Every day, I am in that paper. Man, I am loving it. And Lee is hating it. She hated any kind of publicity. She thought we were going to get kidnapped and killed. Well, no, she just hated it. But it didn't take much to convict the poor bastards that were taking the money. The jury gave them . . . we just had to try one. The rest of them were like dominoes. They came down, pled guilty. So, I got favorable press. I got offers from all the firms to come go to work. So, I went over to Fred Parks and George Sire, stayed with Parks one year and didn't like that too much, and then George and I started our practice. And ever since then, it grew like, big.
There is one case we haven't mentioned. I represented the famous Cullen family.
PH: Well, the only one I want to talk about is the Sunset Treat case so don't let me forget that one.
JJ: The Cullen family was interesting because Roy Cohen was on the other side of this. He was representing Count Baron de Porto-Novo, and if there was a more arrogant son-of-a-bitch than Roy Cohen, I never met him. He asked me to describe him once, and we were in the courtroom. He had been picking at me . . . "Why don't you describe me as you see me?" I said, "I can do it quickly." I looked over at the judge. "I believe that Mr. Cohen would be inconspicuous in a commode." Well, that topped everything pretty quick. So, we go to trial. Vinson Elkins had been their lawyers forever but the Cullen family decided they wanted me to take the lead, which I did. We go over there and I am enjoying kicking on Babe Schwartz and Roy Cohen pretty bad, just being ugly but in my nice way. So, I get quoted . . . the national news is covering all of this because Cohen . . . John Henry Falk wrote me the sweetest note after that. He ______ now. Anyway, they were having this interview after Cohen filed this motion. It made no sense at all. And this is not kind of me but I did it and I am not ashamed of it and I am not proud of it. I am not anything of it. It was 3 networks: NBC, ABC and CBS. They were all outside the courtroom with the mikes going all over the country. Cohen butts into this deal, says something. One of the reporters asks him, "What do you think about this motion?" I looked at him, looked at the camera, looked at Cohen for a good 3 or 4 seconds. I said, "At the very best, it is a very queer motion." The son-of-a-bitch turned around and ran, and off he went. So, he said, "Do you have anything else to say?" I said, "Yes, and I want you to quote this accurately. There has to be a God because it is getting harder and harder for me to be an atheist. There has to be a God to have delivered Roy Cohen to me." I turned around and walked off. Of course, we kicked his ass . . . it is the only time they told me at the time that the Club 21 in New York ever bought an individual a drink on the house. When the news got out all over the world on that case, we wanted it gone away. He sued the Cullens for like $2 billion. I went in there and a guy named Bruce Snyder was the manager of the place and he recognized me from a photo. I am sitting in there with Betty and Hugh Litke and Lee. He said, "We have never done this before but the house would like to buy you a drink." I said, "I can tell you this - I will accept it." So, they brought me a scotch. They hated that guy, just despised him.
PH: I had forgotten that you were involved in that.
JJ: I took the lead in that case.
PH: I did not know that or I had forgotten. The Tree case.
JJ: The Tree case was a very interesting case. I had to try it twice. George and I had just started our practice and we didn't have any money. We went to the bank to borrow $5,000 each and I remember the banker telling me, he says, "We can't loan you any money. If your wife will sign this note," so I had to go ahead and get Lee to sign my note which she easily did. It was the way she was. We get this case comes in. It is in the books. Her name was Neva Hugh Glover. She was married to Glover. He had worked for the people that weigh trucks on highways, a state weighing department, of whatever it was. They check the weight of trucks. They had been invited to dinner at the counselor's house of Lamar High School. She worked for the customs department. And they go to dinner and have a couple of drinks and the counselor has a headache so she says, "Why don't you go over to Youngbloods Fried Chicken?" There used to be a Youngbloods Fried Chicken on Main Street there years ago. "And pick up some fried chicken." "O.K." So, he goes to do this. It is raining. On his way back, he has to come up Sunset so he takes a left off Main onto Sunset. About 150 feet or 100 yards into Sunset was a tree island that had 2 trees, and Rice is over here. There is a row of trees over here and a row of trees over here. Well, my man and his Studebaker hit the curb and goes 19 feet, knocks the keep right sign down, goes 22 feet more and hits the tree that has a reflector on it. The cops come out, they take him, he lives 9 days, and I sue the city for maintaining a nuisance. The papers pick it up, think I am nuts. Tried it the first time, the jury hung 11 to 1 to hang me. Tried it the second time. I had Louis Cutrer on the stand for a half a day. He was there. I am running the biggest bluffs you can run, just trying to . . . It is one of the first cases or first year that women were allowed to sit on petit juries in Texas. I had gone to the mens room. The city made its argument, I was getting up to make my final argument. I had gone to the mens room and broken my zipper. And luck would have it, I had on a pair of red and white polka dot shorts which you could see. So, I am coming out of the mens room and I get over by the elevator operator and she says, "Your fly is unzipped." I said, "I know it, honey. Have you got a safety pin?" "I've got a safety pin." So, I am late and I go in. It is the only case that Lee Jamail ever came and watched me try except she came and watched that closing at Pennzoil. That is 50 years or more. So, I go in there and I hit that door. The city attorney, oh, he was just smiling. I am late. You're late, late. I always looked at that as juvenile shit anyway. And the judge is up there kind of scowling. I swung that door open and turned to the jury and said, "Judge, you can see, I have had an unfortunate accident. I am sorry I am late but I have broken my zipper and I hope it doesn't distract any of the ladies on this jury." Well, of course, everybody cracks up. Lee turned the color of a tomato. She could not get out of there quick enough. But the jury went out and gave me the prayer _________. It was upheld through the Supreme Court.
PH: And just for people watching, that is the wide spot there at Sunset. They never made the curbs linear again but the tree islands were moved and that is why right between Shady Side and Rice University, you go through and there is that big circle. Think about Joe Jamail whenever you drive through that.
JJ: That's right.
PH: O.K., we are rolling again. It is about 12:30 and we will just go until we get tired of talking. But thank you, Joe, I think this is really great stuff. Very valuable.
JJ: I hope it is. There is something I really wanted to say. Back to my childhood. We didn't have all this organized soccer mom stuff. Summer time came, you took your shoes off and you went to the nearest park and you got shoes up softball/baseball game. We had a lot of little parks around town then. A lot of them are not here anymore. And kids just . . . you had a glove, you had a ball and a bat. And you'd go out there and you'd play all day long. You'd take your lunch. They had a little concession stand. You'd buy a hotdog for a nickel. It just was a fun place to hang out, rather than all this organized . . . you've got to be at dance class, you've got to be at music class, you've got to be . . . that is robbing children of their youth, to me. I made this speech to my children.
PH: In defense of your children, we all kind of know it is true but to say, well, you know, don't do all that dance class and don't do those violin lessons and don't do those tutors and organize this and that, come home and play stick ball in the street - well, you'd be the only one playing stick ball in the street. You'd be on the internet, I am telling you right now. It is a lot more dangerous than stick ball.
JJ: And you'd fail. School was over, school was over then. It was just different.
PH: I know, and to be the first one to step off the treadmill would take a lot of courage but also, it would put your child in an unhealthy vacuum.
JJ: It would. And we weren't the first one to step off. Our older brother did it, and their brothers. There wasn't anything else to do. You would have to listen to the radio 20 minutes a night or 30 minutes a night. There wasn't any television, period.
PH: We worry about what we are doing to these kids . . .
JJ: We read, pretty much as a family. We would just read. My dad would read to us or people would pick up a book. It was a different thing.
PH: It was a different thing but, you know, I have coached your grandkids and I have watched both of them play baseball - I think you've got great grandkids and I hope I have great kids. They are much better people than we were. But you do wonder if at age 30, they don't sit down and they are just too tired because we are wearing them out. They are overscheduled.
JJ: Well, the school, for instance, especially at Kincaid. They are pouring work on those kids. O.K., let's go back to you.
PH: All right, well, let's talk about the Coopers and Lybrand case. That is the irony, as you know, to the king of torts but really, most of your major verdicts have come on contract claims.
JJ: Most of the money I made came out of contract cases.
PH: Of course.
JJ: Or fraud.
PH: Or fraud. Call that a business tort.
JJ: Right, or torts are interference with . . . yes.
PH: So, you know, you have a long history in business litigation and I think that is probably one of the reasons why you hold yourself separate from the personal injury lawyer because it doesn't describe you.
JJ: Well, they hold me different as well, the Bar does.
PH: That is fine.
JJ: The Bar has retained me on several occasions. University of Texas - I just finished a case for UT, a segregation case, discrimination case. I wouldn't be telling you about it if I hadn't won it.
PH: I am assuming you did. We will come back and talk about UT as one of your passions because I really do want to know what gets you out of bed in the morning. Is it ______, is it the University of Texas, is it your grandkids? It is obviously not the accumulation of wealth or one more notch on your pistol. So, think about that but before we do that, let's just talk about the linear history of business litigation that became Enron, that became accounting fraud.
JJ: You know, Paul, I think it came to me . . . I had made a name trying damage suits. I was trying cases, I mean, really regularly, like sometimes as many as 10 a year, 12 a year. We could try a comp case in the day - sometimes I'd try 20 of those in a year. I went over 13 years without losing a case. I tried them every week pretty much. So, word got out. People began writing about me. Newsweek was first. I think in the early 1970s. Then Time. Then others. And I don't know why. I never had a PR guy, I never had a billboard, I've never advertised, I have never had to. But I think by accident, it started . . . you mentioned Silver Dollar Jim West a while ago. I represented his daughter, Marjean West, in a pretty interesting case. This so-called attorney at law, along with 2 others with licenses, one of them was the general council for the State Bar. And pretty much moved in with her. She was an alcoholic. The old lady. Old Dollar Jim West's widow. Alice Snead West. She unfortunately drank too much. They pretty much took her over and convinced her that her 2 daughters were dead. They weren't. They hired policemen around the clock. The daughters couldn't get through by phone or get to the house. She gets sick, goes to the hospital and they rent the rooms next to her on either side. She dies. They leave all the money to themselves. They prepared her will for her as well. So, the family came to see me. I think Jack Trotter got them to call me. I am not certain. Of course, the case intrigued me - I would anybody. So, we were going to try it. My only statement to the press was, and I am not that shy, "Well, we are going to let a jury decide whether or not these 3 strange lawyers who had some fiduciary duty to her deserve the money or her children deserve it, and I am willing to take my chances." Well, we beat the shit out of them. One of them quit. It was a bad scene, a real bad scene. We took all the money back, made them give back all the art they'd taken. We did it all. That was maybe the first one. Later on, the Cullen family, I guess - they've got so much notoriety. Their scrapbook is full of this stuff out there. A lot of people thought he had a legitimate case. He didn't. It didn't turn out that way. I represented Dresser Industries at one time. They got in a jam. Their lawyers, the big firm. Got them in a real jam. And somebody just started calling me. Baker Hughes. When Baker was going to merge with Hughes, Hughes was attempting to back out of the deal. Of course, it would appear they were. I was able to stop that. I just believe that if you can try the kind of cases I grew up trying, first in the criminal courts where you have to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, that is some heavy burden. And then, in the civil courts, try to convince all 12. And where one piece of 1% of negligence would bar my client, once you learn how to do that, well, as well as I do it, people take notice. The truth is, Paul, these so-called intellectual property cases, patent cases which I tried, ______ interference, contract, don't take near the toll that some really injured person takes. And they are totally dependent on you. Exxon will go its own way. But I get involved just as much with them because you have to put a face on these people. I made a speech to all the general counsel Fortune 500 . . . what do they call themselves? "How do we keep our executives from having to go down to the courtroom?" I said, "Why in the name of anything that is precious would you want to do that? Don't you want to put a face on that crummy, stealing, corrupt corporation you represent?" It is pretty human being . . . I guess what I am telling you is that it is a lot easier to make a lot more money off of corporations. People are reluctant, jurors even before tort reform, were reluctant to take money to give it to somebody who was injured. You really have to know what you are doing because the rules were so stringent and the damage issues were so limited that you had to be good at it.
PH: How many people do you have up here supporting you, lawyers?
JJ: Four or five of us.
PH: A pretty small group.
JJ: Oh, yes. One time I had almost 30 of them, came in one Monday morning and said, "Take all your files, leave by noon, get rich. You are out of here." Big firms refer cases to me to take the lead in. All the big firms. I have represented Freed Frank in New York. A lot of the big firms. All the firms here at one time or another. The clients ask them. "Would you get Joe?" I do mine on a contingency, they do theirs on an hour.
PH: Well, the psychological hook . . . you know, when we took what we called the Ding Dong School at Fulbright and Jaworski, that is what they tell you, that you have to create . . . I mean, ___________ but the psychological hook. In other words, you have to put a face. You have to create a moral issues no matter how dry the subject matter happens to be. The document is not going to win the case for you. Well, I digressed. Let me ask you one of these really asinine Larry King-type questions: If you weren't a lawyer, what would you do? [end of tape #1, side 2]
JJ: Probably a hobo.
PH: A hobo? All right, that's fair.
JJ: Really, no kidding. I would probably do nothing. You asked my why I got out of bed? I've got to have somewhere to go. I'd go nuts at the house. I have been that way all my life. I spent Saturdays down there, part of Sundays. Bring the boys with me when they were little.
PH: Talk about the house one second. You know, not everyone in Houston obviously could enjoy this but there was a time when Houston became a small town again and that time was Christmas Day at the Jamail house. And so, for many years, you and Lee had a wonderful Christmas party and everybody would put on their new sweater and it was, everybody coming. It was kids in the back. Just families and people who otherwise would be associated with stature of some kind were out there on guarded vest. That was a great party. It was part of Houston . . .
JJ: We enjoyed it for so many years. The kids liked it.
PH: Oh, yes. Well, I think the parents liked it as much as the kids.
JJ: They did.
PH: It was fun to look at.
JJ: It was fun for me to watch these different political, from different spheres, play nicey-nice with each other. I had great times at some of those things. I would get to spend, oh, a half hour or more with your dad. I keep coming back to him because he honored him and I hope I honored him. He is a friend.
PH: You know, this is a big city today but there are some sort of macro personalities who you coexisted with and your age. I would be remiss if I did not sort of get your reaction to these names. Fayez Seraphim, of course, is a great friend of yours and came to Houston under different circumstances, but operates a sort of same place in history that you do ________ fewer words probably but that is by the nature of the business he is in. Talk about Fayez Seraphim.
JJ: Fayez is a friend. I found him to be directly honest. He doesn't play games. We do business together. What can I say? He is a friend. I trust him. And along with friendship comes trust. You can't have a friendship without having trust with each other. The only problem with Fayez is, is he has run the price of divorce out of sight. The son-of-a-bitch has got no brains when it comes to women. I told him, I said, "You know, we need to have you castrated. Something's got to be done with you. Fayez, I don't care how much money you've got, O.K., you can't keep cutting it in half."
PH: Oh mercy! O.K.
JJ: He is a good father. You know how smart he is.
PH: No question. Oscar Wyatt.
JJ: I am one of the very few people you are ever going to meet who really likes Oscar.
JJ: And Oscar is probably everything they say he is, but he is my friend. He has never, ever betrayed me. He has always been straight with me. One thing about Oscar: we never had any business dealings because I am not in his business, he is not in mine, but we talk, he confides in me. Oscar has done a lot of good in his time. Oscar rubs most people the wrong way. I claim it is because he is a wetback. He had to swim across Buffalo Bayou to get over to this side of the nice part of town. I am talking about that chicken shit place he came from. You know, Oscar probably cost us more money during the war than the Germans. He crash landed maybe, I don't know how many airplanes. He was a so-called pilot at some of these gatherings which I refused to go to, most of them, except Isabel Wilson or somebody like that who is a friend and a great lady from the museum or something that Lee was interested in. If you would wind up in the corner me and Fayez and Oscar, Fayez would look at me and say, "Don't you know how these bastards hate you because you are rich?" I said, "That is part of the fun of it, Oscar."
PH: He is a unique story. You talked about ______ where he came from. I think one of the things I learned from Governor Bullock is, you know, the first thing he asked you when you walked in his room and I don't care who you were, he's day, "Now, where are you from, boy?" because he knew if you were a little boy from Hillsborough or if you were a little boy from the Catholic school in Houston that was getting picked on by the bullies, that is who you ever were. And so, he knew that if you wanted to find somebody's weakness, if you want to get to the heart of them right quick, just find out who they are and what they are for, and their experience was, and that is all you needed to know.
JJ: You know, he was a friend of mine as well.
PH: Oh, I understand.
JJ: Oscar is a unique individual and I am sure he cut corners. I don't know what business man hasn't.
PH: O.K., that's the perfect transition. Ken Lay.
JJ: I didn't know Lay that well. I knew him. I represented him for part, not in that Enron stuff. He had some trouble with, I can't remember whether it was British Petroleum or somebody in the North Sea, and he asked me to represent him on a local matter involving that, which I did. I don't know anything good or bad. I just don't know. I am sorry to see anybody go down, I really am. I am just sorry he took so many people with him. That is going to be his legacy whether anybody likes it or not. When you take on a leadership role, we are back to accountability now, you can't just say, yes, I am the leader but I don't know what is going on. You have shareholders. You have a duty to them. I don't know. I think, having been a history major, that is probably what I would have done if I didn't practice law - teach history or English lit. I think history is going to record him not favorably. And I don't know - his appearance after it all collapsed was not anything I would allow one of my clients to do because each time he appeared, he appeared unrepentant, almost arrogant. I am just telling you the view. And I don't think he was that kind of a guy really, but I think he adopted a pose of some kind then.
PH: Well, I think we all agree that if he hadn't stepped back into that role and tried to put humpty dumpty back together again and sold a lot of shares while he was doing things he needed to do . . .
JJ: There's the problem. See, I was involved in that case. I represented Vinson Elkins. It is not easy to represent the law firm and represent the company but I was able to get them out of it totally which I think was . . . I have had some remarkable cases but that is really . . . as they say in east Texas, "Boy, that's some lawyering."
PH: Yes, you might have earned your dollars on that one.
JJ: I didn't charge them anything.
PH: Well, see, there is your problem. Harry Reasoner.
JJ: My good friend. Dear, dear friend. ________. But Harry was so close. I had to do it. I wanted to do it. I told him I was going to do it.
PH: Well, you did very well.
JJ: Somebody asked me, they said, "You mean you did all that and didn't charge them a fee and you got 16 state cases thrown out, you got the major class action from the rack in that bunch thrown out, dismissed, and you didn't charge them a fee?" I think I told Mary Flood this. I said, "Mary, they prepaid." I ______ business with them.
PH: Yes, there was an exchange of value there that you were acknowledging.
JJ: No, I wanted to do it because I thought they were going to get a bum wrap, the lawyers weren't going to get a fair trial unless they had somebody that could . . . I was ready to try it, Paul. I had it all ready. And it wasn't going to be easy on them. See, they are buying that God damn worthless stock while Kenny Lay sat on it. Oh, the racks bunch. California Regents. I was going to make it pretty difficult. I told them, I said, "Look, I am going to try this like it is who ran the red light?"
PH: Bob Lanier. Again, another major figure in Houston during your lifetime.
JJ: I know him.
PH: My impression is you are not close but that doesn't mean anything.
JJ: No, we are not social friends. We just run in different groups. He likes country clubs, I like saloons.
PH: Fair enough. Well, you are very productive with a small staff here and you just sort of hand it to all the things you have to do . . .
JJ: But there are 10 women here who are better than any lawyers we've got.
PH: Duly noted, and I have always been suspicious of a clean desk and I don't think you've cleaned up for us today.
JJ: No, I am going to show you a desk where I work.
PH: The point I was getting to is I was in Ross Perot's office one time; in fact, he and Tom ______ offered me the number 2 place in his presidential campaign. One of the few good decisions I ever made was to turn that down.
PH: But he had no computer. Here was a man whose source of his personal wealth was a computer, and he had no computer at his desk. And you don't either, so tell me about that.
JJ: I don't know how to use them.
PH: O.K., that's fair enough.
JJ: I've got all those people in there who have computers.
PH: Well, Ross told me he bought you a computer.
JJ: He did but I don't know how to turn it on. He has to come over and get the football scores for me.
PH: Let's talk about Lee. Obviously your life partner, the mother of your children, beloved by everyone that had the joy of knowing her. You will leave a certain professional legacy but, of course, the other part of your legacy is more important. Talk about Lee for a second.
JJ: Well, she is easy to talk about. The biggest honor I ever got was her loving me and her letting me love her, and that is the truth, and it all happened kind of by accident. My sister introduced her to me. They were classmates at Incarnate Word in San Antonio. I came back from the Marine Corps wild and horny. I am out there. Well, she came home with me one weekend and I met her and I immediately was attracted to her, but I had a date with a real hottie that night. Anyway, that was probably in 1947, late 1946, early 1947. So, when I went back to Texas, I called her on a Sunday afternoon. Florence had given me her home phone number. She was home and I asked her if she wanted to have dinner and go to a movie. Sure. So, we started going together. I went with her pretty steady for about 3 months. How do I put this. And then, my male ego got in the way again so I moved in another nice lady. I was in school in Austin. She was in San Antonio. I didn't see her for a long time. Then, her sister was getting married. My sister was a house guest at Lee's family's home and she asked me to take her to the reception, which I did and I saw Lee coming down these steps with her escort. I just went over and got her and I said, "Come on, I want to take you somewhere." "I can't leave" or something. There was a place on West 5th called Jakes Cold Hole, and it was the coldest beer in town, but they had a little blues and jazz combo. So, she went along. We went over there and sat and visited. She said, "What's with you? You are dating me for 3 months. I don't hear a thing from you. What is all this about?" So then, I took her back - we started going together again. She was the most compassionate and most understanding person I have ever met. There was no gamesmanship in her, no bullshit. She would push right through it. Loving her was the easiest thing I ever did in my life. She understood so much.
She got her masters in special education because she was interested in teaching children with speech defects and children who were hard of hearing. She started the first volunteer program out of TIRR for the hearing and speech defects. She was in such demand. I never met anybody with more dignity, more restraint and less pretense and I am not thinking about . . . I am thinking about her and only her. I could never have done what I did without her. I found myself looking back thinking, Joe, pretty much everything I did, I did trying to impress her, and that is the truth.
PH: That is a very nice thought.
JJ: Well, it's true. You know, she was in such demand. She was on so many boards. She refused to go on Pennzoil's board. She refused to go on Chase National board. _________. She was on the board of the museum, a life trustee at Rice, she was on the 3 person executive council for the president of the University of Texas. UTMB named the student center after her. She was on so many things.
PH: Well, my time with her, other than knowing her just as your wife and your children’s' mother, was on the Baylor board. She just had such a presence. A lot of people describe my grandmother as having a presence - a small woman that had a certain command of the room when she chose to speak.
JJ: She could. All she had to do was walk in.
PH: Well, it is hard for me to see my own grandmother that way but Lee had that same kind of presence - big old board room at Baylor and all these rich folk and all these big guys who think they are smarter than everybody, and she would sit there and just patiently . . . sometimes she would sit through a whole board meeting and not make a sound, but when we were in the middle of something that was particularly contentious, when she would pull the mike towards her or speak up or raise her hand, boy, everybody just got stone silent. And she would inevitably reach through those stack of egos and touch the issue, whatever it was. She would say, "Well, I don't know but it seems to me," and everybody said, "Yes, I guess that is the heart of it."
JJ: She was an amazing person.
PH: She could find the heart of the issue.
JJ: You know, they named the new second wing of the Baylor Hospital after Lee.
PH: That is wonderful. They should.
JJ: They called me from UT, the powers. They wanted to name the nursing school after Lee and I said, "Don't do that. She would not like that. Period." She hated that sort of thing. I said, "I know her and I know that she would rather have those girls come out of there with a degree from the University of Texas rather than Lee Hage Jamail Nursing School. It is just not fair to those kids." She wouldn't liked it and I told them they couldn't do it. We've got enough . . . you know, people have been kind enough.
PH: I understand.
JJ: Let me tell you a funny story about her. We were riding along in the car with Macey and Harry Reasoner. We had a house in Galveston. They were asking me about a case I tried where a juror dropped dead in the jury box right in the middle of the case. He hit the table. What had happened was a good friend of mine, Scott Baldwin and I, were trying the case. It was right before lunch. He kept saying, "Joe, that juror back there, you can't see him, hates your guts. He is making faces at you. He is sticking his tongue out at you." Finally, Judge Fisher, the federal judge, has granted recess. I told him the story. He said, "I can't help you there." So, they bring him back into the jury room right after lunch, whap, he hit the deck. Dead. I told Scottie during lunch, "Maybe he'll die, I don't know." He dies right there. Scottie says, "Get away from me. Don't touch me." So, we are sitting, I am telling this story, they are asking about it, and either Macey or Harry said, "Well, what did he die from?" And Lee, without a crack of a smile or taking a breath says, "Boredom, probably."
PH: She was a very, very special lady.
JJ: Yes, she is.
PH: Before we talk about UT and your obvious commitment to the University, I wanted to ask you about, there is a story out there that I have always assumed was popular myth and the story is roughly that Darrell Royal and Willie Nelson arrived in a limousine at your house the night before closing arguments of Pennzoil Texaco, and that you were up most of the night. Is there any truth to that?
JJ: Well, it was absolute truth. We were up until at least midnight drinking beer and listening to Willie pick. Finally I said, "Guys, I've got something I've got to do tomorrow, so I've got to get some sleep." So, they got back in the limo and left.
PH: Well, that is a great story.
JJ: Would you like to see a picture of it?
PH: I would love to see a picture of it.
JJ: This is the front of the house where Lee and I lived at the time in Indian Circle. Lloyd Bentsen bought this house after we moved. That is Willie and that is Darrell and this is the front of that limo.
PH: So, this is the night before Pennzoil and Texaco?
JJ: Before I argued Pennzoil Texaco. I made the closing argument the next morning.
PH: And here is the pride of Abbott, Texas.
JJ: That is him.
PH: And I don't know who that guy is.
JJ: That is, of course, Coach Darrell Royal.
PH: Of course it is. Well, that is a good story. I am glad to know that. I had forgotten that that house is the Bentsens house. Well, that house has a lot of history.
JJ: Yes, it does.
PH: When I worked for Governor Bullock, he and Abbott, of course, were right down the road from Hillsborough and according to Bullock, the whole world revolves around Hillsborough. It just almost does actually if you figure out the lineage of who runs what. So, they were roughly contemporaries growing up in adjacent towns and he said that they had always considered that Willie was retarded, that that was the popular opinion among the boys of his generation. But to say that Willie has gotten the last laugh several times over would be an understatement.
JJ: Willie came to see me. He was coming to Lee's funeral and I asked him not to because I didn't want to make a . . . George Strait came because he was a friend. He came quietly, him and Norma. Willie came and spent a couple of days with me and we had a good visit. He picked the songs she liked for me. See, he and Waylon wrote "Good Hearted Woman." And then, they dedicated it to Lee. Then, when it came out, "this good hearted woman in loved with a good timing man," I said, "Thanks you sorry son-of-a-bitch. That is all I needed in my life."
PH: Well, that is a rich legacy.
JJ: Yes. We've been close friends. Very close friends. He wrote, when he did the Stardust album, he brought it by Lee and I at my house and he played it for us on the rudimentary thing. He said, "What do you think, lawyer?" I said, "Willie, that shit will never sell." Let me show you something.
PH: Well, I think we've got all the tape we want but you've got to be down at the courthouse . . .
JJ: She just told me it is canceled.
JJ: I am here for whatever you want to do.
PH: Well, let's do this: I have only one more kind of chicken, Larry King-type question but I've got to do this. Regrets? Anything you'd do differently?
JJ: Oh, I am sure there are some things but being the egotist that I am, I've blotted them out.
PH: That works, too.
JJ: It works for me.
PH: What about legacy here, your vision for Houston? Again, this is back to the gets-you-out-of-bed-in-the-morning kind of thing.
JJ: I have thought about this more lately than I ever have, since Lee died this year. Why do I want to still live here? A lot of my friends are dead. I still have a lot of friends. I kept thinking about it and I can't think of a better place I'd rather live. No place. And I have been all over the world. I think that regardless of what I said earlier about the _______ that I see creeping into our society, this is still the friendliest place and they respond when given an opportunity and things are explained to them properly - they will respond and help. Like, whose got a medical center like this? Most of it built with charity money. Lee and I gave Baylor $40 million. I don't know whether you knew that or not.
PH: I did not know the number. You have been very generous for a long time.
JJ: Well, when I represented them on that insurance thing . . .
PH: Oh, I do remember that.
JJ: I just ______. But people do things like that. A lot of it doesn't get publicized. Can I tell you something about Lee, what she did?
JJ: I represent Apache Oil Company on occasion. They are good friends. And we keep our plane there. They've got a Gulfstream 450 and I do, too. Lee and I did. We share a hangar. We own it together. Well, they have oil wells in Egypt. Lee was reading about children in Egypt, especially little girls, never got an opportunity to go to school the first day in some of those rural areas. There is no school. She got ______ Raymond Plank, who is a good friend, who is chairman of the board of Apache and is my good friend as well, was telling us about what they were thinking of doing. Lee seized on this. We have now built 10 schools in rural areas in Egypt for the girls only. They are just like 5 to 14 or 15, to teach them English, Arabic or the Egyptian dialect of it, math and science. We are going to build 10 more. That is the kind of person she was. The pictures at Christmas of these little children in front of the little schoolhouse . . .
PH: And the thing about Lee is you couldn't beat that information out of her. She would not tell a soul.
JJ: She would be mad at me for telling you.
PH: I know she would.
JJ: I am just telling you to kind of . . . she had a feel for people. You know, she was pretty much an orphaned ________ dad. She went to boarding school when she was 2. Her mother died from complications in childbirth. And handled it better than anybody I ever knew in my life. Who would have thought of that, O.K.? Why Egypt?
PH: Why Egypt?
JJ: Because she wanted little girls to read and write.
PH: Yes, it wasn't that complicated.
JJ: Yes, real easy.
PH: Not that complicated.
JJ: But Houston, to do a fast ______ about Houston - it is not only the medical center. I think we've got the greatest legal minds. I know trial lawyers and I have tried them all over the world, Paul. We've got great legal services here. We don't do enough pro bono work. The poor don't have great legal services, but that is the Bar's fault and I have preached it, preached it and preached it. I have tried many cases where I have charged no fee, whether it was not enough recovery to be had, where children were involved, but that is just one person. We ought to be educating people as to their rights so they are not so willing to trash the Constitution. This never leaves from behind my desk and I read it at least once a month.
PH: Do you really?
PH: Good for you. Larry Sabado at the University of Virginia where I went, you know, he has these that he hands out and so I have one on my desk but I don't read it every month.
JJ: It is not bad. You read it 20 minutes.
PH: That's true.
JJ: And I am not a prevention neighborhood, wearing my flag on my sleeve. I can't stand people that cloak themselves in the flag. It is a piece of cloth. You are going to kill kids for it? Why? But sometimes I compare Houston to Dallas or Houston to New York in a lot of ways and it comes on to me this way: Houston's got a soul or a heart or a beat. Dallas has Neiman Marcus. This was different. Do you think for a minute Dallas would have taken all those Katrina refugees?
PH: I don't.
JJ: Do you think New York would have taken them? Giuliani would have had them shot at the border and mailed them to New Jersey.
PH: It was a chance for Houston to show what it does best, which is execute and open its heart and checkbook. I learned a lot about Houston just through the eyes of the people who were displaced and lived here long enough to have an opinion and compare and contrast to . . . a guy came up to me one day, a sophisticated guy, and said, "You know that thing you have here. We don't have that in New Orleans." I said, "What thing are you talking about?" He said, "That optimism thing." I said, "You don't have that in New Orleans?" He said, "No." He said, "You all think that progress is inevitable. Well, I am here to tell you that it is not." And I said, "Well, I hope we never learn to . . . I hope we still" . . .
JJ: Houston still has a sense . . . maybe we are still country, I don't know. A sense of willing to help. It is intolerant in a lot of ways in its attitude towards filling up the penitentiaries but when I was a young lawyer, there was a man named Beto, he was a preacher. He was the warden at Huntsville. Dr. Beto. We were sending 17 year olds to the penitentiary for 10 years or more for 1 stick of marijuana, and filling his penitentiary up. He went and begged the legislature to decriminalize it or make it a misdemeanor or whatever. The warden.
PH: They named a unit for him there at the hospital, as you remember.
JJ: They should have. But Houston, really I guess the best way to put it, knows how to . . . we are more than a professional football team, baseball team, flag waving nonsense. We are just more. And that is why I choose to live here.
PH: Well, I had to explain one time, I guess it was during the Superbowl maybe - they had the international press here and they were trying to film around and they said, "Well, would you come give a talk to the international press at the Hobby Center because your name is Hobby and that all seems to work for me." O.K. And so, I thought, well, what in the world am I going to say? And there weren't that many of them, you know. Free drinks, free food, they take them around on a bus. And I said, well . . . this was total improvisation but it ended up working. I said, "You know, a lot of people drive by the outside of this building and they don't get it. It looks like an airport terminal. But I used to get calls all the time. People would call me and go, "Oh, O.K., I went to a show last night. Now I get it." I said, "It is an inside out building once you understand the acoustics and how it is planned, you come out and you see that window and the city at night." They understand that the building was built to be observed from the inside out. I said, "The city is kind of like that" because you look at Houston from the outside and you go, what?
JJ: That is an artistic achievement.
PH: Well, you and I can say so.
JJ: I know so.
PH: But I think once you are inside Houston, the feeling is very different than when you are looking at it from the outside.
JJ: We put the ceiling in that building.
PH: Oh, the Gold Ceiling. Was that you?
JJ: That is the Jamail ceiling.
PH: I love that ceiling.
JJ: Do you know why? Nobody ever called me to contribute and I got angry about it and I called Bill, I said, "How come I can't pitch in on this deal?"
PH: Well, you were the only one.
JJ: And he said, "You can." So, he was the one that suggested they name the ceiling the Lee and Joe Jamail ceiling.
PH: Well, thank you for doing that.
JJ: Oh, don't thank me. We love it.
PH: I love that ceiling but I never knew who was responsible. Well, thank you. Well, I am going to do what they teach you to do at the end of depositions.
JJ: Edit the hell out of it.
PH: Well, no, I am going to open it up and just sort of say what have I not asked you that I should have? What would you like to say?
JJ: Any time you want to come back, you are welcome here. You know it. I hope I didn't ramble too much. In my first remarks, I wasn't trying to disparage Houston, I was trying to show a comparison about when I grew up - the care and the love that the people had for hobos, as we called them. I think that is still there. When the need is there, people in this community respond. Not everybody but a great majority do.
PH: I agree with you. I think that that is a differentiating factor. But change is inevitable and bigness brings a certain inevitability.
JJ: Yes, we don't have the coldness many of the big cities do.
PH: I agree with that. Well, I can't tell you what a pleasure this has been.
JJ: Hey, thanks!