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El Paso attorney Jim Darnell has history of taking NCAA cases; expects Johnny Manziel to start in game 1

Jim Darnell is not a stranger to dealing with the NCAA.

He estimates he’s represented 15 to 20 players and coaches in cases with the NCAA over the years. Most cases have ended up in his client’s favor.

The Manziel family announced Thursday that they hired El Paso-based attorney Darnell to represent Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner and Texas A&M quarterback. Darnell told ABC-7 Thursday he has been working on the case a couple of weeks.

ESPN has reported that Manziel is being examined for allegedly signing autographs for money before last January’s BCS title game between Alabama and Notre Dame. Such a deal would compromise Manziel’s status as an amateur.

Darnell told USA Today that Manziel is cooperating with the NCAA investigation.

When asked by ABC-7 what is the spectrum of consequences Manziel faces, Darnell said, “I don’t know at this point because they wouldn’t, there really isn’t anything spelled out. There are no formal allegations. So we’re just kind of working through it.”

Texas A&M said Monday it hired Lightfoot, Franklin & White, the same Birmingham law firm that helped keep Cam Newton eligible in 2010.USA Today reported it did so to protect Manziel’s eligibility as well.

Darnell said he has no prior relationship with the Manziels and that lawyers referred him to the Manziels. He said he has worked on numerous NCAA cases, most notably representing Baylor when its basketball program was sanctioned in the early 2000s and former Southern California basketball coach Tim Floyd, now head coach of UTEP.

Comparing past NCAA cases to this one isn’t really possible, Darnell said.

“I don’t know that any two cases are the same,” Darnell said Thursday afternoon in his law office. “I’ve represented several coaches and players in NCAA matters but no two have ever been the same. This one has gotten extra publicity, I guess, for whatever reason. But interestingly this has brought some debate about some of those rules that seem a little hypocritical. But still, we do our investigations, we work with others and come out the other end.”

Darnell is confident that they will prevail and Manziel will play his sophomore season.

“Well, we’re always feeling like we’re going to be successful. I figure he’ll be the Aggies starting quarterback against Rice on Aug. 31,” Darnell said.

Darnell has dealt with businesses and people across the spectrum in his career, but what is it like dealing with the NCAA?

Chuckling, he said, “I’ll take the fifth on that one. I like our judicial system, let me just say that. And it (the NCAA) ain’t our judicial system.”

With so many NCAA cases under his belt,Darnell is quick to say which he’s proud of – in a manner of speaking.

“With the good ones, you come out and their names are never used. So I can’t disclose — nobody ever knows there was an investigation. Those are the best ones. Those are some that came out real good but I can’t disclose their names,” he said with a smile.

But no matter the outcome, the process takes a toll.

“It wears on an individual. Not me but it wears on…whether it’s a coach or a student athlete, it wears on them. It’s a difficult process to go through,” Darnell said. “It’s got to be a lot tougher when you’re 20 years old. But the good thing is football practice at Texas A&M has started and he’s occupied. He’s back to playing football. That’s what he does best.”

For Darnell, the reason for taking the Manziel case is simple.

“That’s what I do. I’m a lawyer; I take cases. When people come to me asking for help, I try to help,” Darnell said.

Jim Darnell Bio


Born May 3, 1955
Oklahoma City, OK

Languages: Spanish

Married with two sons


Jim Darnell, P.C. Private Practice, 1995-present
Grambling/Darnell, L.L.P. Partner, 1991-1995
Jim Darnell, P.C. Private Practice, 1990-1991
Grambling & Mounce Partner, 1980-1990


Southern Methodist Univ. JD cum laude, 1980
Dartmouth College AB cum laude with honors, 1977


Texas Bar 1980
U.S. District Court, Western District, TX 1982
U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit 1986
U.S. District Court, Northern District, TX 1987
U.S. Court of Claims 1994
U.S. Supreme Court 1997
U.S. District Court, Eastern District, WI 2007
U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit 2010
U.S. District Court, Eastern District, TX 2010


American Bar Association, White Collar Crime Committee, Ethics Gideon & Professionalism Committee
American Board of Trial Advocates, El Paso Chapter
(Treasurer, 1995; Vice President, 1996; President Elect, 1997; President, 1998)
Federal Bar Association
Litigation Council of America (Fellow)
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
State Bar of Texas District 17 Grievance Committee
(Member/Chairman, 1986-1992)
Texas Bar Association
Texas Bar Foundation (Fellow)
Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association
(Associate Director, 1992-1994; Executive Committee, 1995-1997, 2012-present;
Director, 2007-present)
El Paso Bar Association
(Board of Directors, 1997-1998)
El Paso Criminal Defense Lawyers Association
(Board of Directors, 1988; Vice President, 1990; President, 2008)
El Paso Legal Assistance Society
(Board of Directors, 1982-2001; Chairman, 1986-1988)
El Paso Young Lawyers Association
(Board of Directors, 1983-1985; Treasurer, 1985-1986)


Southwestern Law Review, Survey of Criminal Law, 1985, 1986
El Paso Criminal Law Seminar, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000
Law Education Institute, Criminal Law, 1996
“Masters in Trial,” ABOTA, 1995, 1998
“Winning Criminal Trials,” TCDLA, 1998


Southwestern International Livestock Show & Rodeo, 1982-1997. Board of Directors, 1987-1997. Assistant Vice President, 1989-1990. Executive Vice President, 1990-1991. Vice Chairman, 1991-1994. Chief Executive Officer, 1994-1997.

El Paso Services for Children (Ronald McDonald House), Board of Directors, 1982-2004; Advisory Board, 2004-present; President, 1984-1985.

YMCA, Board of Directors, 1984-1990.

Leadership El Paso, participant, 1985.

Boy Scouts of America, Yucca Council, Board of Directors, 1990-2000.

Editor’s Note: Story has been edited to clarify that there is an investigation by the NCAA.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Article Topic Follows: News

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