A young lawyer once asked Rex Alan Jemison how he won cases.
“Be right,” the veteran lawyer replied, his longtime colleague Dan Polsenberg recalled.
Jemison carried that philosophy through five decades of practice in Las Vegas, fighting for his clients and arguing landmark cases. He died Thursday at the age of 78.
Jemison, a native Oklahoman, and his family moved to Las Vegas in 1938, so his father could work at Hoover Dam, said his daughter, Shannon Price.
Jemison was an honors student at Las Vegas High School and graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno, before heading to law school at Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C.
He completed postgraduate work at Stanford University and worked in private practice in California and Kansas before returning to Las Vegas in the early 1960s. It was here that he made his name.
He was a founding partner of the powerful law firm now known as Beckley Singleton, where he was drawn to complex litigation and appellate cases.
Jemison mentored a young lawyer named Harry Reid, now a U.S. senator, and worked on many of the biggest, most complex cases in the state, Polsenberg said.
Reid is expected to give the eulogy at Jemison’s memorial service at 4 p.m. Saturday in the Spanish Oaks Clubhouse, Price said
Jemison enjoyed the challenge of complex cases because they gave him the chance to explore and develop the law, Polsenberg said. But Jemison wouldn’t take just any case. He only took cases in which he believed the law was on his side, he said.
“He would do cases for people in trouble. He would do cases for people who lost miserably. But he wouldn’t take cases where people were wrong,” Polsenberg said.
Jemison was involved in litigation related to the MGM Grand fire, and he helped Las Vegas win its eminent domain case against the Pappas family. Among other cases, he won a 1994 term limits decision that allowed Gov. Bob Miller to run for another term, and he won a similar case for state judges in 1996.
“He was always my Perry Mason,” Price said. “To me he never lost anything.”
Jemison focused on appellate cases later in his career. He told Polsenberg it was a path to immortality.
“You’re involved in making the law, and the law lives on long after you,” Polsenberg remembered his colleague saying.
Often, after working marathon sessions researching and preparing legal briefs, Polsenberg recalled, Jemison would stand up, look to his fellow lawyers and say, “I should go home and see Barbara,” his wife since 1964.
“I just imagine that is what he was thinking when he died,” Polsenberg said, because Barbara Jemison died in 2005.