Famous litigator, UT donor Joe Jamail dies

Joe Jamail
Joe Jamail

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Famous litigator and University of Texas donor Joe Jamail died Wednesday at the age of 90.

Jamail served as the lead attorney in several landmark cases and was named “Trial Lawyer of the Century” by the California Trial Lawyers Association. The most famous case of all for him occurred in 1985 when he represented Pennzoil in a contract dispute with Texaco. The jury found in favor of Pennzoil for the amount of $10.5 billion, an amount that still ranks as the largest civil verdict in U.S. history, according to UT Athletics. 

“It was the biggest case in the history of the world,” Jamail said. “Nobody thought I could win that lawsuit–nobody.”

Austin attorney David Minton said Jamail did not mind confrontational situations in court.

“He did not shy away from a fight. He did not like a skirmish, he liked an all out war,” said Minton. “You needed to strap on your helmet if you were going to go opposite of Joe Jamail.”

That bold and clever persona was liked by juries in the courtroom, but Minton recalled beneath the tough trial lawyer exterior was a kind, soft, and generous man. In his lifetime, Jamail gave more than $50 million to the University of Texas. He once said, “You know, there are no vaults where I’m headed. Up or down. And I’ve never seen a Brinks truck at a funeral yet, so its not purely unselfish that I do this because I do get a great deal of enjoyment out of it.”

But though his name and statues are etched all over the university, Minton said his philanthropy did not require it.

“Joe has donated many times to causes and charities he refused to lend his name to because he wanted to remain anonymous.”

The university has honored Jamail with naming several facilities and buildings after him, including the Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center, Joe Jamail Field and the Joseph D. Jamail Center for Legal Research.

Lee Jamail, his wife of 57 years, passed away in 2007. He leaves behind three sons.

Statements of Condolences

UT Athletic Director Mike Perrin:

Joe Jamail was a giant of a man, who made a huge impact in all facets of life. His contributions to The University of Texas are a lasting legacy and testament to his never ending quest to give back and support activities, the law and sports he believed in. Our heartfelt condolences go out to Joe’s family. With them, we share grief and a sense of loss in his passing. But, we also share our joy of having had him as a major part of so many lives.

Former Longhorn Coach Mack Brown and good friend of Jamail’s:

“Joe’s passing is just devastating news. First and foremost, my thoughts and prayers are with his family. I don’t know where to begin with Joe. Since we came to Texas 18 years ago, he’s been a friend, mentor, confidant, advisor – he’s been everything to me. He and Coach Royal were two of the most influential people in my life and having lost them both now is so difficult. “

Longhorn Coach Charlie Strong:

“It’s a sad day knowing that such an important part of our program has passed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. When we go in the stadium and see the Joe Jamail Field sign and his statue it will continue to remind us how much he gave to this program. I know I’ll think about him and remember a story he told every time I see them.”

KXAN’s Chris Sadeghi will have the impact Jamail had on UT on KXAN News at 5.

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