Counsel for the Defense

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

Baron wound up back in the pound for the night. Haynes went to jail. The following day, the boy-and-his-dog story not only made the local papers but was picked up by the wire services. In short order, Haynes was released, Baron was allowed to go home, and the pound administrator was fired.

Only years later, long after being hired to work part time in Foreman's law firm, did Haynes learn that the story of his pet's rescue had a great deal to do with his getting the job. Foreman, in fact, explained that people's affection for dogs would ultimately provide the new attorney with a valuable courtroom tool. "If," Haynes' mentor explained, "you can show that the victim ever abused a dog, you can pretty well bet that your client won't be convicted."

There would, however, be lessons a young Haynes had to learn the hard way. After defending an elderly client accused of embezzling a sizable amount of money from a bank, he was feeling good about the defense he'd put on and, in fact, told his client that he felt pretty confident the jury would come back with a not-guilty verdict. "If they do," Haynes said, "I want you to be sure to thank the judge and the jury."

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.

Indeed, the man was acquitted, and dutifully followed his lawyer's instructions. "Judge," he said, "I want to thank you." Then, turning to face the jury, he said, "And members of the jury, I not only want to thank you...but I promise you I'll never do it again."

"I should have known better," Haynes reflects. "Once before, I'd suggested that an acquitted client thank a judge--whose mother had been my Sunday school teacher when I was a kid--and his response had been, 'Don't thank me, you little turd. I know you're guilty.'"

Such events, however, did little to tone down the flamboyance that had already become Haynes' trademark. His first victory had come in the form of a $5,500 fee for the settlement of a client's personal injury claim. "I went straight to the bank, cashed the check and asked for 55 $100 bills," he recalls. With one he purchased bottles of scotch and bourbon, then phoned several law school buddies and invited them to a celebration in his tiny office. The guests arrived to find the other 54 bills scattered on the floor, chairs and desk. The show-off Haynes offered a mock apology for not having had time to clean the place up.

It was not the insurance claims or defense of those accused of drunken driving--cases that had begun to earn him sizable fees--that stirred Haynes' passion. For that matter, even the verdicts in the high-profile murder cases have not provided the personal satisfaction he received from a long-ago pro bono defense of a man accused of stealing some materials from a construction site.

"There was no question in my mind that the man was innocent," he says, "and I worked my butt off to convince the jury of that." Having successfully done so, Haynes was invited to a post-trial celebration at his client's home. "It was this little ol' shotgun house way down in the ghetto," the lawyer recalls. "His wife and grandmother had cooked this wonderful meal, and the kids had made all these little signs that said things like, 'God bless you, Mr. Lawyer.' There was barbecue and soda pop, singing and dancing and more than a few happy tears."

To this day, he insists, it is the nicest party he's ever attended. "I went home that night feeling that I'd done something pretty damn good," he adds.

It was that case and its warming aftermath that convinced Haynes to devote 10 percent of his time to pro bono representations. "It's my tithe," he explains.

Though his schedule doesn't indicate it, Racehorse Haynes insists he's finally slowing down. While he still enjoys getting out in his power boat, he recently sold the 64-foot sailboat he'd piloted all over the Gulf of Mexico for more than 20 years ("I named it 'Integrity,'" he says, "because for years people said I didn't have any"), and he doesn't ride his Harley as often ("Too many idiots on the highway today, talking on cell phones while going 90 miles an hour"). His firm is smaller now, with only three fellow lawyers and four clerks and paralegals. He avoids the 80-hour workweeks that were once commonplace, and he's become more selective in choosing cases. "For instance," he explains, "I've made up my mind to stay away from the corporate criminal cases that often take years and a ton of paperwork to resolve. I don't want to start anything I can't finish.

"But, good Lord willing, I'd like to keep doing what I'm doing for four more years." Age 80, he says, seems like a good stopping place.

Then what? There are, after all, just so many banquets and roasts at which one can be honored, so many lazy days on the water to enjoy, concerts to attend, books to read or memoirs to write.

"I have a couple of fantasy scenarios that come to mind now and then," he admits. "In one, it's the last case of my career and I'm defending a client who everyone in the courtroom thinks is guilty as sin. But I do such a fantastic job of cross-examining one of the people testifying against him that the witness suddenly throws his hands into the air and blurts out a confession that he is the one who really committed the crime."

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