Jaworski, Leon (1905–1982)

By: Newton Gresham and James A. Tinsley

Type: Biography

Published: February 1, 1995

Updated: April 5, 2017

Leon Jaworski, lawyer, was born in Waco, Texas, on September 19, 1905, the son of Polish and Austrian immigrant parents Rev. Joseph and Marie (Mira) Jaworski. The family lived for several years in Geronimo, Guadalupe County, where Reverend Jaworski pastored an evangelical church, before returning to Waco, where Leon finished high school. He graduated from Baylor University law school in 1925, then attended George Washington University and received the LL.M. degree in 1926 before returning to Waco to practice law. Jaworski moved to Houston in 1930 and practiced in the firm of Dyess, Jaworski, and Strong until April 1931, when he joined the firm of Fulbright, Crooker, Freeman, and Bates. He became a partner in 1935 and managing partner in 1948; his name was added to the firm's in 1954. Twenty years later, the firm name was shortened to Fulbright and Jaworski (see FULBRIGHT, RUFUS CLARENCE). By the time Jaworski retired in 1981 the firm ranked among the largest in the nation; it maintained offices in Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, Washington, and London. Jaworski was a leader in the legal profession and had held the presidencies of the American College of Trial Lawyers (1961–62), the State Bar of Texas (1962–63), and the American Bar Association (1971–72).

In addition to private practice, he served in the United States Army judge advocate general's department during World War II and was made chief of the trial section of the war crimes branch in the late stages of the war in Europe. In this office he directed investigations of several hundred cases concerning German crimes against persons living and fighting in the American zone of occupation. He also personally tried two cases-the first having to do with the murder of American aviators shot down over Germany in 1944 and the second involving the doctors and staff of a German sanatorium where Polish and Russian prisoners were put to death. Jaworski had risen to the rank of colonel by the time he returned to civilian life in October 1945. He later wrote about his wartime experiences in After Fifteen Years (1961).

Jaworski successfully represented Lyndon B. Johnson in the case that allowed Johnson to run for both the Senate and the vice presidency in 1960. After Johnson became president in 1963 he appointed Jaworski to important positions on the President's Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, and the Permanent International Court of Arbitration. Jaworski's most widely remembered public service occurred in 1973 and 1974 when he headed the Watergate special prosecution force charged with uncovering the facts surrounding the Republican break-in at the national Democratic party headquarters during the presidential campaign of 1972. In July 1974 he argued the case of United States v. Nixon before the United States Supreme Court and won a unanimous decision ordering President Richard Nixon to turn over to the district court magnetic audio tapes that implicated him and members of his staff in a conspiracy to obstruct justice. Shortly thereafter, President Nixon resigned from office. Jaworski published his account of the Watergate prosecution as The Right and the Power (1976). In 1977 Jaworski was called back to Washington to serve as special counsel to the United States House of Representatives Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. In what the press referred to as "Koreagate," he developed cases of misconduct in an influence-buying scandal that resulted in disciplinary action against six members of Congress and two private citizens.

Jaworski became a trustee of the M. D. Anderson Foundation in 1957 and was later on the boards of the Texas Medical Center and the Baylor College of Medicine. He was the president of the Houston Chamber of Commerce in 1960 and a director of the Bank of the Southwest; Anderson, Clayton, and Company; Southwest Bancshares; and Coastal States Gas Producing Corporation. Among his many other activities, Jaworski promoted the building of the Astrodome, belonged to the Philosophical Society of Texas, and received many honorary degrees, including an LL.D. from Baylor in 1960. He coauthored two autobiographical volumes, Confession and Avoidance: A Memoir (1979) and Crossroads (1981). On May 23, 1931, Jaworski married Jeannette Adam of Waco; they had three children. Jaworski was a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Houston. He died of a heart attack at his ranch near Wimberley on December 9, 1982, and is buried in Houston.

Houston Post, December 10, 1982. Harry Hurt III, "Have Conscience, Will Travel," Texas Monthly, November 1977. Leon Jaworski Papers, Texas Collection, Baylor University Library. Gina Spada, "Leon Jaworski," Texas Bar Journal 46 (February 1983).

  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Lawyers
  • General Law
Time Periods:
  • Great Depression
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Newton Gresham and James A. Tinsley, “Jaworski, Leon,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 11, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/jaworski-leon.

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February 1, 1995
April 5, 2017

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