Counsel for the Defense

At 76, flamboyant criminal lawyer Racehorse Haynes keeps doing what he does best--winning

From that day, Haynes says, he's remained keenly aware of the frailty of life. He reaches across the mounds of paperwork piled on his desk and picks up a small vial filled with volcanic ash and sand from the Iwo Jima beach. "I keep this," he says, "to remind me of people like Pops and how lucky I was to get back home in one piece."

Says Huntsville's Jack Kerr, former Sam Houston State professor, product of the Heights and friend of Haynes for more than 50 years, "The unique thing about Richard is his genuine concern for and understanding of people. He's been that way since we were kids. Becoming wealthy and famous hasn't changed that a bit."

Every Wednesday, Kerr says, Haynes and old buddies from the Heights gather for lunch. "On those days, with all the reminiscing and storytelling that goes on, you wouldn't even know he's a lawyer."

Richard "Racehorse" Haynes approaches his boyhood home in Houston, which he recently purchased.
Mark Graham
Richard "Racehorse" Haynes approaches his boyhood home in Houston, which he recently purchased.
Haynes, a former welterweight,  
is "tough as a floor safe"  
in the courtroom.
Haynes, a former welterweight, is "tough as a floor safe" in the courtroom.

When he enrolled at the University of Houston in the fall of '46, paying his way with a government loan and partial athletic scholarship from the basketball and track coaches, it was with the long-range plan to become a doctor. "That," he says, "didn't last long. I got me a part-time job at the medical center and immediately saw the frustration that the work offered. There were so many patients that no one could seem to help. There was no way to stop them from dying or, in some cases, even ease their pain. I knew I wouldn't be able to handle that."

So he exchanged his weekend medical center job for one pumping gas, decided to pursue a degree in accounting and set about making a name for himself on campus. The latter he did with a vengeance. It was a time when the nation lived in fear of the Communist threat and schools across the country were requiring that students sign documents stating they had no allegiance to the Communist Party. Though still years away from his days as a lawyer, and then student body president, Haynes not only refused but led rallies against the idea. "I was damned sure no Communist," he recalls, "but the idea of making it official by signing a piece of paper seemed absolutely ludicrous. So, yeah, I raised Cain."

He's been doing so ever since. It just took him awhile to find the proper stage for his showmanship. Upon graduation, he lasted less than a month with an accounting firm that had hired him, quitting, he says, before he was fired. "I began to think that maybe a military career was the way to go," he says. For the next two years he served as a paratrooper and hand-to-hand combat instructor with the 11th Airborne Division.

"It was my wife who made me a lawyer," he says. "She wasn't particularly thrilled with the idea of me jumping out of airplanes for a living and suggested that 'as a backup' I might want to think about going to law school."

Haynes didn't need a great deal of encouragement. During his undergraduate days he'd often skipped class to visit the Harris County courthouse and watch the legendary Percy Foreman argue cases. "He was absolutely brilliant," Haynes remembers. And then he is grinning again. "Quite honestly, another thing that influenced my decision was all those Mickey Rooney 'Andy Hardy' movies. In them, Andy's father was this wise and caring judge who seemed to always have the right answer to every problem imaginable."

Thanks, then, to Naomi Haynes, Percy Foreman and the mythical Judge Hardy, the Racehorse again changed his course. And in a roundabout way, Haynes' dog, Baron, also did his part.

Which leads to yet another story:

"I'd just finished classes one afternoon," Haynes remembers, "and got this frantic call from my mother. She'd been keeping my dog for me, and he'd gotten out of the back yard and had been picked up by the dogcatcher." Haynes immediately drove to the local pound to await Baron's arrival. "In those days, all you had to do was prove you were the owner and pay a $5 fee to get your dog back."

It was early evening before the dogcatcher arrived with a truckload of yelping and frightened strays. Anxiously, Haynes pointed out his dog to the man in charge of the pound and extended a $5 bill. "He said, 'Nope, you'll have to wait until tomorrow.' We argued for some time until it was clear he was not going to let my dog go home with me. So, I just reached over, flipped the latch and told Baron to come with me."

As Haynes and his boxer were walking away, the pound administrator pulled a pistol and fired two shots into the air. "That's when I lost it," Haynes remembers. "I turned and said, 'You ignorant SOB, are you going to shoot me in the back for taking my own dog? I love him, but I damn sure don't want to die for him. I'll just sit outside the pound tonight and get him in the morning.'"

That's when the man slapped Haynes. Baron jumped into the fray, attacking the man who had struck his master. "He started hitting my dog with his pistol, so I took it away from him and tossed it into some nearby weeds."

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