Jim Neal, one of the most heralded attorneys ever to practice in Nashville, died last night in a Nashville hospital. He was 81 years of age.
Neal first gained national attention as a special assistant to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy in 1961, when he began investigations that would lead to the prosecution of labor leader Jimmy Hoffa in a Nashville courtroom over alleged corruption in the Teamsters union. He went on to serve as U.S. Attorney for Middle Tennessee from 1964 through 1966 before entering private practice.
President Richard Nixon's Watergate scandal thrust Neal into the public spotlight once more in 1973. He served as associate special prosecutor on the team of investigators whose findings ultimately forced the president to resign in 1974. CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite was heard to comment that his summation in the Watergate trial was "the finest closing argument" he had ever heard in 30 years of reporting on litigation.
Later, in the early 1980s, Neal served as chief counsel to the U.S. Senate's Select Commission on Undercover Operations.
Neal and fellow lawyer Aubrey Harwell founded the law firm of Neal & Harwell in 1971, and Neal remained with the firm for the rest of his life, handling numerous high-profile cases over the years.
His clients included Elvis Presley's physician Dr. George Nichopoulos, Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards, and two major corporations that faced criminal charges: Ford Motor Co., in the case of the allegedly exploding Pinto automobiles, and Exxon Corp. following the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.
Born September 7, 1929 in Sumner County, Neal became a star football player at the University of Wyoming, graduating in 1952. After service in the U.S. Marine Corps, he earned law degrees at Vanderbilt University and Georgetown University.
Surviving him are his wife, Dianne Ferrell Neal, and three children: James Neal, Julie Neal and Sarah Nickoloff, as well as several grandchildren. NashvillePost.com will update this story later today with further information.