Nearly 20 years on and the lawyer bust-up to end all lawyer bust-ups has resurfaced on viral video site Break.com
The do things differently in America — but they do things really differently in Texas.
Or at least they did. Break.com has dredged up a classic encounter between Texan lawyers from the mid-1990s. The video features a couple of heavy-weight litigators clashing over an alleged pollution case involving St Louis-based agrichemical mega-company Monsanto.
US jurisdictions frequently go in for pre-trial depositions, which, unlike simple witness statements in other common law countries, involve both sides’ lawyers quizzing those scheduled to give evidence at the later court battle.
But in Texas — at least in 1996 — the process also involved the lawyers giving each other a good old fashioned tongue lashing.
The main pugilists in this nearly 20-year-old encounter were Joseph Jamail — who reportedly made his fortune nearly a decade earlier in the Pennzoil v Texaco case, in which he bagged a fee of some $345 million — and the significantly younger Edward Carstarphan, who still practises at Houston firm Ellis Carstarphen Dougherty & Griggs.
Indeed, Carstarphan qualified in 1987 — the year Jamail trousered that large fee — but he nonetheless held his own in this encounter.
The bemused witness in the middle was a Monsanto executive and part of the transcript was reproduced soon after the dust up by the disdainful chairman of the Utah State Bar (presumably lawyers in God-fearing Mormon Salt Lake City didn’t swear, as indicated by the prim replacement of the more robust words with “obscenity”.)
Mr Jamail: You don’t run this deposition, you understand?
Mr Carstarphan: Neither do you, Joe.
Mr Jamail: You watch and see. You watch and see who does, big boy. And don’t be telling other lawyers to shut up. That isn’t your [obscenity] job, fat boy.
Mr Carstarphan: Well, that’s not your job, Mr Hairpiece.
*The witness tried to speak but could not make himself heard.*
Mr Jamail: What do you want to do about it, (obscenity)?
Mr Carstarphan: You’re not going to bully this guy.
Mr Jamail: Oh, you big (obscenity) sit down.
And that’s not the half of it. The encounter carries on to the point where one lawyer suggests to the other that any disagreement over the finer legal points could be far more effectively settled outside in the corridor.
Sadly, neither lawyer actually comes into vision in the Break.com clip, so we are unable to determine just how obvious Jamail’s toupee was and how corpulent Carstarphan appeared.
But we do know that Jamail’s combative style clearly didn’t damage his career. Four years ago, Forbes magazine calculated his wealth at $1.5 billion. According to the magazine, he kicked off his career in 1953 at the prosecutor’s office in Texas’s Harris County, having replaced the previous district attorney after that lawyer was impeached for “running a string of whorehouses”.
He went on to found his own personal injury firm, the Law Office of Joe Jamail, and the rest is very happy history, as far as his presumably large team of financial advisers is concerned. “When you got this much money,” Forbes quoted him as saying in 2010, “you don’t need to try anymore.”
In that year, Jamil — now 88 and known in the US as the “king of torts” — chucked a $15 million donation to his alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin.
Carstarphan is listed on his firm’s website as also having graduated from the law school at Austin and being the author of several tort text books. Whether he’s hit the personal fortune billion mark yet is not disclosed.