The King of Torts
April 7, 2006 9:04 AM   Subscribe

The billionaire attorney. The King of Torts. Legendary Texas Lawyer. He is Joe Jamail. He is most famous for his record setting verdict in Texaco v. Pennzoil (which eventually made it to the US Supreme Court) in which Joe secured a $10.3 billion dollar judgment (though it is not known for sure, some speculate that Joe walked with $1 billion in attorney's fees in that case). In addition to being well known for his success, he is almost as legendary for his colorful demeanor. One such example was when he got reprimanded for his behavior in Paramount Communications Inc. v. QVC Network, Inc.. But to see him in action with your own eyes, we have video of classic Joe during a deposition he was giving. (via brainwidth).
posted by dios (47 comments total)
If the link doesn't work, here is a direct link to the file at youTube. A little explanation for what is going on in the deposition for those who are unfamiliar with them. Joe Jamail is the person off camera to the right. He is deposing (what I assume to be) an expert witness for the Defendant in that case, the Monsanto Corp. The guy just off screen to the left is Edward M. Carstarphen, the Defense attorney representing Monsanto. The other voice you hear('Tucker") is either a co-plaintiff's or co-defendant's attorney. Joe begins by asking the witness if he met with the attorney for Monsanto and what was discussed. Since the attorney represents Monsanto, and not the witness, there is no attorney-client privilege over such communications. The witness doesn't answer the question truthfully. It degrades from there. Carstarphen objects and tries to instruct the witness. Since he isn't the attorney for the witness, he gets called on instructing him. Then it just turns into a pissing match of egos.
posted by dios at 9:04 AM on April 7, 2006

Now that's what I call incipient verbal diarrhea.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:11 AM on April 7, 2006

I kept waiting for the, 'Made you flinch!' and six-inch punch to follow.
posted by NationalKato at 9:14 AM on April 7, 2006

I'm not sure any of it means anything except that I've been able to be really advantageous for my clients. And me.

I'm not saying money's bad. I like it. But there are no vaults where I'm going. Up or down.

Wow, he still appears to have an actual sense of perspective (or maybe that's just the superlawyer at work).

His behavior in Paramount doesn't actually seem that bad, in comparison to the other anecdotes cited in the article.
posted by gsteff at 9:19 AM on April 7, 2006

Lawyer on left: "Don't talk over eachother."
(Tucker asks if the lawyer represents the witness. When told no, he replies thus.)
Tucker: "If you don't represent him, you don't have the right to be making any objections."

I didn't realize "Don't talk over eachother" was an objection. Lawyers in the house: Is Tucker full of shit at this point, or is "don't talk over eachother" legally an objection?
posted by Bugbread at 9:23 AM on April 7, 2006

It's not a true objection, but more an instruction to the witness so the court reporter can accurately transcribe everything.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:26 AM on April 7, 2006

Oh man, now you're making me all homesick. Joe Jamail is a legend in Houston, where I come from. This is how the law is done there. Remember, Texas is the state that gave us LBJ, the man who once stood on another man's boots, whipped out his pizzle, and pissed on him. Oh yeah, good times.
posted by Nelson at 9:29 AM on April 7, 2006

From the "behaviour" link (emphasis mine):

You’re so scummy and so slimy and such a perversion of ethics or decency because you’re such a scared little man, you’re so insecure and so frightened and the only way you can impress your client is by being nasty, mean-spirited and ugly little man, and that’s what you are.

I can't read this without imagining it being spoken by Raymond or Peter.
posted by Bugbread at 9:31 AM on April 7, 2006

Yeah, it's an instruction (and one made all the time). But as a technical matter, since Carstarphen is not the attorney for the witness, he is not supposed to instruct him. I get the sense that there was much more before this that we didn't see. This guy "Tucker" took that instruction as a jumping off point to try to intimidate the Defense attorney. The Defense attorney, not wanting to appear weak, came back with a strong retort. And it just devolves from there.

The dynamic at play here is that all sides are technically correct in what they are saying, but it is a giant ego pissing match with the goal being trying to show who is the alpha male in the room. Carstarphen isn't supposed to instruct the witness, but he is free to object on the record on behalf of Monsanto. Jamail is in charge of the deposition since he is apparently the one who noticed it. They just all lose themselves in time and space and let their posturing get the better of them.
posted by dios at 9:31 AM on April 7, 2006

dios : "I get the sense that there was much more before this that we didn't see."

That's the impression I got as well, hence I doubt that Tucker was baseless in his accusations. It was just that, of all things to break the camel's back, "don't talk over eachother" didn't seem like an objection.

Like if your neighbor gets in shouting matches every day with his wife, and it drives you crazy. Then, one day, your neighbor says "Hello" to the mailman and you rant "Dammit, stop shouting at your wife!"

So, it isn't an objection, but it is an instruction, and instructions aren't allowed, but objections are? And if that's the case, wouldn't it have made more sense for Tucker to say "Don't give him instructions" (since the lawyer isn't supposed to) instead of "Don't make objections" (which the lawyer has the right to do)?

Nelson : "Oh man, now you're making me all homesick. Joe Jamail is a legend in Houston, where I come from"

As a fellow Houstonian (living outside the US), I hear you. I just liked hearing Texans talk to eachother in a capacity that wasn't A) a political speech, or B) a television comedy. It's been a while since I heard Texans talking to other Texans.
posted by Bugbread at 9:39 AM on April 7, 2006

Jamail isn't by any means the most colorful or caustic attorney. I think few compare with the famous barrister F.E. Smith in that regard.

Some choice examples:

Judge: "Are you trying to show contempt for this court, Mr Smith?"
F. E. Smith: "No, My Lord. I am attempting to conceal it."
Judge: "Mr Smith, you must not direct the jury. What do you suppose I am on the bench for?"
F. E. Smith: "It is not for me, your honour, to attempt to fathom the inscrutable workings of Providence."
Judge: Poor boy. Blind. Put him on a chair so the jury can see him.
Smith: Perhaps Your Honour would like to have him passed round the jury box.
Judge: That is a most improper remark.
Smith: It was provoked by a most improper suggestion.
Judge: Mr. Smith have you heard of a saying by Bacon - the great Bacon - that youth and discretion are ill-wedded companions?
Smith: I have. And have you ever heard of a saying by Bacon - the great Bacon - that a much talking judge is like an ill-tuned cymbal?
Judge: You are an extremely offensive young man.
Smith: As a matter of fact, we both are, and the only difference between us is that I am trying to be, and you can’t help it.
posted by dios at 9:41 AM on April 7, 2006

wouldn't it have made more sense

Yeah, you are correct, bugbread. It would have made more sense. But being rational wasn't going there. Tucker was trying to intimidate Carstarphen in the hopes he wouldn't object later as Jamail proceeded. He wasn't trying to make a correct point for the record. In the first deposition I took, I was going second, and the first attorney and the plaintiff's attorney had a 45 minute yelling sidebar about whether the witness had answered the question. Neither side would budge because it was a pissing match. The actual issue was irrelevant; it was all about who would be alpha male the rest of the case.
posted by dios at 9:46 AM on April 7, 2006


I got ya. I was just talking about procedural points. From the psych perspective (which, I'm sure, is more important), Tucker's move made more sense than my option.
posted by Bugbread at 9:50 AM on April 7, 2006

Perhaps the full Wikipedia entry on F. E. Smith would be indicated. Though if Rumpole of the Bailey is anything to go by, British courts might appear to be fairly tolerant of smart ass remarks directed to the bench by counsel.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:52 AM on April 7, 2006

Texas is the state that gave us LBJ

He also manhandled the Nobel Peace Prize winning Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson for speaking in favour of negotiated settlement of the Vietnam war at a Philadelphia university .
posted by CynicalKnight at 9:52 AM on April 7, 2006

I was in a deposition and the opposing lawyers were all "don't YOU point YOUR finger at ME!!" with spraying spit and throbbing veins in their temples.

As soon as the stenographer closed her transcription it was "Lunch? I'm buying."
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:55 AM on April 7, 2006

The hardest point to grasp about depositions, and the point that witnesses most often fail to understand, is that most objections don't matter during the deposition. In a significant amount of commercial litigation many witnesses are not called live at trial; instead and edited version of the video of the deposition is played or the an edited version of the transcript is entered. Before the trial, counsel is usually required to submit their cuts to the court, indicating which parts of the depo they plan to use. Opposing counsel can then reraise any objections they made during the deposition itself, and the judge may decide that counsel can't use that part of the deposition.

As a practical matter, that means that the witnesses is required to answer the question even if there is a valid objection asserted. There are a few exceptions, like privilege, but by and large, witnesses can't avoid answering the questions. This is complicated by a relatively recent rule change in Texas, which prohibits so-called "speaking" objections, where a counsel gives a long-winded objection essentially to coach his or her witness. Objections now are essentially limited, at least in theory, to "objection, form" and "objection, privilege." No explanations allowed. Lawyers routinely break this rule.

In the first deposition I took, I was deposing an accountant offered as a 30(b)(6) witness on certain aspects of oil company accounting related to the movement of oil through various pipelines. After a serious of background questions, I asked the witness a particular question at the heart of the dispute. Worried that the witness seemed to be about to give a bad answer, opposing counsel immediately launched into a long speaking objection, trying to prevent the witness from answering. I, of course, said, "Please, no speaking objections." And asked again. More objections. I said to the witness, "You can answer the question." More objections. At this point, I'm completely ignoring the opposing counsel, and repeating to the witness, over and over, "Answer the question." I must have repeated that 15 times while opposing counsel rambled on, with his witness looking back and forth, totally confused. Finally, the witness blurts out the answer I want, an answer absolutely horrible for his employer. Opposing counsel looked like he was going to throw up.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:03 AM on April 7, 2006

I was a legal assistant in a deposition involving asbestos liability. 10 corporate defense attorneys versus my unassuming boss and me. All we were there for was to hand over a couple banker's boxes of documents. For a good 45 minutes, the defense guys argued about what to CALL the boxes. Not the contents, just a definition of the box. Talk about a pissing match.
posted by Ber at 10:20 AM on April 7, 2006

Ber, its all about billable hours.

Dios, excellent post and I really liked the three extra examples of F.E. Smith. Like a lawyerly Groucho Marx! Thanks for this.
posted by fenriq at 10:34 AM on April 7, 2006

monju_bosatsu: I have to disagree slightly about whether objections matter during the deposition. While most (other than privilege) have no legal effect during the deposition, a well-prepared witness has been told (probably several times) that an objection, even if it is not a speaking objection, should be a red flag indicating there is something tricky in the question. The "no speaking objections" rule has been the rule under the Federal Rules for years, but I don't know of any lawyers who follow it. Even if I am going to observe it, though, I will certainly have told my witness that if he hears me object he should stop, count to ten, think about the question and decide if he understands it, if it has hidden assumptions, if it's compound, if he wants a read back or what have you.

I will sometimes give a hint, even in a short form objection. "objection to form, compound," "objection to form, assumes facts not in evidence" or "lacks foundation" or "calls for speculation," "objection, mischaracterizes the testimony" or (one of the most absurd, but most used) "the document speaks for itself" (Nonsense! If it spoke for itself we wouldn't be here!). I'll also sometimes ask for a clarification on my own to indicate to the witness that there is a hidden trap: "What time period are we talking about, Bob?" "You mean, does he recall whether that happened or not?" Or even just an aside to the witness: "If you know . . . " or "If you recall . . . " So even if only form objections are permitted and all others are preserved (as they typically are under the "standard" stipulations) I will generally tell a witness that an objection is a red flag and that he should make sure he's thinking before he answers or ask for a read-back of the question if he's not sure.

The point in all of this is to reinforce in the witness the idea that depositions are not conversations and that, while he must answer truthfully and completely, he need not do more than that and he must watch out for tricks.

A lot of young associates come to work thinking that taking a deposition is hard -- it is, but you can learn how to do it pretty easily as long as you are well prepared. Defending is, in my view, much harder. You have to judge precisely how far you can go, how much you can afford to protect your witness and when it's time to back off and let the witness do his thing. It's an art, especially when video is running, and a big part of that art -- and this is something a lot of lawyers have trouble with -- is knowing how much speaking is too much.
posted by The Bellman at 10:37 AM on April 7, 2006

Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is a post!
posted by sluglicker at 10:38 AM on April 7, 2006

Bellman, there is not a "no speaking objections" rule in the Federal Rules. Check Rule 30(c).
posted by GregW at 10:45 AM on April 7, 2006

The Bellman: I absolutely agree that skilled objections are essential to helping your witness. My only point was, as you said, that most objections have no legal effect during the deposition.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:47 AM on April 7, 2006

GregW, check Rule 30(d)(1).
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:51 AM on April 7, 2006

Are these rules online anywhere?
posted by Bugbread at 10:52 AM on April 7, 2006

bugbread, here are the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:54 AM on April 7, 2006

bugbread: the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Those are the rules for federal litigation. Most states have adopted the Federal Rules by tracking them in their States Rules. So most states will have rules substantially similar to the Federal Rules.
posted by dios at 10:54 AM on April 7, 2006

My response was way more helpful.
posted by dios at 10:55 AM on April 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

Thanks, monju_bosatsu, I knew that was there. As I said, though, a lot of lawyers (like GregW, I guess) simply ignore it -- I do, too, when it suits me. It seems to me as if there is, if anything, more pointless colloquy cluttering up transcripts these days than there was in the days before the codification of these kinds of "anti-speaking objection" rules.
posted by The Bellman at 10:58 AM on April 7, 2006

Nice post. I thought it was hilarious, and I thought the deposed gave as good as he got.
posted by OmieWise at 11:14 AM on April 7, 2006

Now this is "reality television" that I can really get behind!
posted by spock at 11:40 AM on April 7, 2006

It appears that these witticisms are no longer on Jamail's website, but check out his "-isms" -- they're available on the Internet Archive. They apparently give a flavor of the man's sense of humor, which is salty to say the least.
posted by jayder at 11:40 AM on April 7, 2006

If I had been in the room, I would've just started laughing.
posted by xthlc at 11:47 AM on April 7, 2006

I love geeks... something about listening to rational discourse from a group of people who are clearly extremely well informed about a particular subject is really pleasing to me. This can be anything from "No, you mean the NCC-1701-E" to the above, awesome, "GregW, check Rule 30(d)(1).".

Of course perceived expertise is always proportional to the knowledge of the observer, so legal discussions are way more impressive to me than, perhaps, they should be.
posted by Squid Voltaire at 12:00 PM on April 7, 2006

I'm with you there, Squid. People on a dedicated law forum saying "GregW, check Rule 30(d)(1)"? Does nothing for me. People on a general forum saying "GregW, check Rule 30(d)(1)"? Somehow very pleasing to me.
posted by Bugbread at 12:04 PM on April 7, 2006

This made my day. I love the good old boys.
posted by geoff. at 12:38 PM on April 7, 2006

This is pure comedy gold.

I'm a second-year law student, and I clerk at a small firm. It's amazing how many attorneys out there are unable to conduct themselves with a reasonable level of decorum.
posted by marklyon at 1:46 PM on April 7, 2006

I thought all Arabs were terrorists. Amazing that one can become a successful lawyer. /sarcasm
posted by cell divide at 2:19 PM on April 7, 2006

This post... kind of makes me want to become a lawyer. I'm not sure if that's a good or a bad thing.

It also makes me proud that Texan blood runs in my veins.
posted by moss at 2:35 PM on April 7, 2006

bugbrain: I agree with you this is nice to hear Texans talkin Texan to each other. Only, well, it reaffirms why I got the hell out of Texas and will never live there again. Ugh.

Still, I love the way Joe calls him a "dumb sumbitch" at the end. You can't write dialogue like that, it'd sound too fake.
posted by Nelson at 2:42 PM on April 7, 2006

Who you callin' bugbrain, boy?

posted by Bugbread at 3:39 PM on April 7, 2006

It also makes me proud that Texan blood runs in my veins.

*Rubs eyes*
Did we just watch the same video?
posted by spock at 4:54 PM on April 7, 2006

is it too paranoid of me to think that widespread linking to an embarassing video of an infamous, filthy rich lawyer would be the cause of YouTube's entire site going down while they figure things out?

I really want to see this video. anyone capture it? non-YouTube link?
posted by carsonb at 7:55 PM on April 7, 2006

Entertaining post, dios, and thanks for pointing out Sir Frederick Edwin Smith. I'll take Brit wit over Texas crude any day: at least they can be hand someone their head with a little civility.
posted by cenoxo at 8:07 PM on April 7, 2006

ahem. I'll answer my own question and say, "yes."

YouTube is rolling out 'new features' presumably to resolve copywright issues. (Their site is down right now.)

I'll chime in with Squid Voltaire and bugbread--the lawerly banter here is fascinating, and this guy seems a real character. thanks for another neat and entertaining post, dios.
posted by carsonb at 8:29 PM on April 7, 2006

Sorry, bugbreath, I'll get it right eventually. Dumb sumbitch.
posted by Nelson at 10:58 PM on April 7, 2006

What kind of tricks are used when asking questions?
posted by reishus at 3:10 PM on April 13, 2006

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