Jere Beasley (1935- ) is known for his success as a trial lawyer and for the 32 days he served as governor of Alabama in the summer of 1972. His law firm is nationally recognized for its success in winning extravagant awards for its clients, including an $11.8 billion punitive damage award against Exxon Mobil Corporation in 2003. Beasley's brief tenure as governor of Alabama resulted from a provision in the 1901 Alabama constitution that requires a lieutenant governor to become governor if, for any reason, the governor is out of the state for 20 days.
Jere Beasley was born to Browder Locke and Florence Camp Beasley in Tyler, Texas, on December 12, 1935, but he was raised in Clayton, Barbour County, where his father ran a small grocery store. In 1958, he married Sara Baker of Adamsville, Jefferson County, with whom he had three children. In 1959, Beasley was awarded a B.S. degree in economics from Auburn University, and in 1962 he earned his J.D. degree from the University of Alabama School of Law. He was admitted to the Alabama bar later that year. In the midst of his studies, he also served as captain in a military police unit. After brief affiliations with law firms in Tuscaloosa and Clayton, Beasley opened his own law office in 1965.
In 1970, having successfully run the election campaign of Senator Jim Allen, Beasley decided to run for office himself and was elected lieutenant governor of the state. He ran as a close associate of George Wallace, but as lieutenant governor reorganized the state senate so that control of that body moved from the governor to the lieutenant governor, creating animosity between Beasley and Wallace. During Beasley's first term, Wallace was shot by a would-be assassin and suffered permanent paralysis while campaigning in Maryland for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination. Medical treatment kept Wallace out of the state of Alabama for two months, leading to the invocation of the constitutional mandate that Lieutenant Governor Beasley take the office of governor until Wallace returned to the state. Beasley became governor on June 5, 1972. No swearing-in ceremony was necessary because the oath for both governor and lieutenant governor is the same in Alabama. Beasley performed the duties of governor from his lieutenant governor's office, pledged to run the state as Wallace wished, and, as one of his first acts in office, declared a day of prayer for the governor's recovery. Wallace returned briefly to the state on July 7, 1972, and Beasley's tenure as governor ended. Despite the ill will over the senate reorganization, Beasley won a second term in 1974.
Beasley made an unsuccessful run for governor in 1978, left politics, and turned his attention to his law practice. He established and became the senior partner of Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis and Miles, P.C., which became one of the nation's leading trial lawyer firms. The firm boasts of winning some of the largest jury verdicts in the nation. For example, Beasley served as co-counsel representing the state of Alabama in a case against Exxon Mobile Corporation alleging that the company violated lease contracts. A Montgomery jury rendered an $11.8 billion punitive damage award and added $103 million in compensatory damages for the state in 2003. The company appealed the award, and in 2008, the Alabama Supreme Court sided with Exxon and reduced the punitive damages to $3.6 billion. Beasley has also won substantial verdicts against Merck & Co. for harmful health effects from its anti-inflammatory Vioxx. Beasley is cited in The Rule of Lawyers: How the New Litigation Elite Threatens America's Rule of Law as Alabama's most successful trial lawyer. Beasley resides in Montgomery, where he is involved in civic activities as a member and officer in the Lions Club, Chamber of Commerce, and other organizations and is a member of St. James Methodist Church.
Note: This entry was adapted with permission from Alabama Governors: A Political History of the State, edited by Samuel L. Webb and Margaret Armbrester (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2001).
Birmingham News, especially June 5 through July 7, 1972.
Margaret E. Armbrester
University of Alabama at Birmingham
Published January 29, 2008
Last updated September 30, 2014