Nashville attorney and federal prosecutor James F. Neal achieved prominence as successful trial counsel in some of the nation's highest profile criminal cases from the 1960s through the 1990s. He is best known as lead trial counsel in the prosecution of high-ranking officials of the Nixon administration that arose out of the Watergate cover-up, the scandal that prompted President Nixon's resignation.
After graduating from high school in Sumner County, Neal attended the University of Wyoming on a football scholarship and graduated in 1952. Following service in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he reached the rank of captain, Neal attended Vanderbilt University School of Law and finished first in the class of 1957. He earned an advanced law degree at Georgetown University in 1960.
While serving from 1961 to 1964 as a special assistant to the attorney general of the United States, Neal helped prosecute Teamsters Union president Jimmy Hoffa for attempting to bribe jurors in a previous case. Following service as U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee from 1964 to 1966, he entered private law practice in Nashville and was a founding partner of the firm of Neal and Harwell.
In 1973 former U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell and other ranking members of the Nixon administration were charged with obstructing justice following the 1972 burglary of Democratic Party offices at the Watergate Hotel by Republican political operatives. Neal was named lead trial counsel and successfully prosecuted the cases.
Among the more noted defendants Neal has successfully represented are Dr. George Nichopoulos (Elvis Presley's physician), Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards, Ford Motor Company in the Pinto criminal trial, and Exxon Corporation in charges resulting from the Alaskan oil spill. He also served as private counsel for Vice-President Albert Gore Jr. in the late 1990s.