Defense Attorney Richard “Racehorse” Haynes ’56 regaled Law Center students with stories drawn from his famed career – and still found time to weave in practical tips on lawyering and the art of cross examination. Haynes, who learned at the knee of fabled Houston defense attorney Percy Foreman and went on to mentor a veritable who’s who of today’s successful practicing attorneys, is still practicing at age 83. He shared his expertise and entertained an overflow crowd as part of the Blakely Advocacy Institute’s Trial Lawyers Craft Speaker Series.
“Today we’re in a technological age,” Haynes said, “and the courtroom has changed so dramatically. But I like to do it the old way.” And part of that old way involves thorough, advance preparation. Among the many lessons that Foreman imparted to him sounds deceptively simple: just ask yourself, before each case, what a real lawyer would do. And if you need to see a few examples, head to the nearest courthouse. “You are so blessed to be in Houston where you can go downtown and see crackerjack lawyers on both sides try a case,” Haynes said.
(Haynes recalled how Foreman’s argument was once interrupted by a wailing infant in the courtroom. Without breaking stride, the attorney went over, picked up the child and put it on his shoulder. The baby immediately stopped crying, and Foreman won the hearts and votes of the jury. Haynes said he stored that tidbit away and sure enough, a few weeks later a screaming child interrupted one of his trials. He went over, picked up the child – and not only did the baby become even more hysterical, but it smeared peanut butter and jelly all over his neck and suit.)
Haynes suggested observing judges and reading everything they have written. “Judges like lawyers who have read their work,” he said. He especially recommended checking out opponents in upcoming cases for insights and clues as to how they might present a case. “We don’t change,” he said. “If something wins for us, we keep on doing it.”
(Haynes recounted how his first case was a simple DWI and in making his final argument, he accidentally stepped into a spittoon, which were common in courtrooms at the time. The jury felt so sorry for this poor clown, he said, that he won the case. Figuring that if it worked once, it would work again, he kept kicking the spittoon for his next 100-plus trials. He ended the practice when a judge plaintively asked him to stop.)
In between stories, Haynes dropped true nuggets of advice. Example: never allow clients to say anything without first writing it down and going over it.
(One client was found not guilty and spontaneously turned to thank the jury for its verdict, ending with, “And I’ll never do it again.”)
Haynes also suggested young lawyers visit the county jail and state prisons to see for themselves how many inmates really are trying to rehabilitate themselves. He said this will help an attorney convey to the jury a sense that “these people really do have good qualities.”
(He once had a case involving the use of a cattle prod on suspects and had learned that placing a dime in the end of the prod blocked the electrical charge while still emitting the crackling, buzz sound. During a break in the trial, he rigged the cattle prod and then showed a gathering of spectators and news people that being prodded really wasn’t so bad by triggering it against his neck. When the prosecutor returned, he was told about Haynes’ amazing tolerance for the electrical charge and to prove he was just as tough, the prosecutor triggered it against his hand. “He was knocked right over the jury box,” Haynes said with a laugh.)
Other tips: Never start cross examination without “knowing what the hell you are talking about” or without a clear plan of where you are going. And always phrase questions so that the answers will emerge the way you want.
(A quick aside about women in the criminal justice system: “Women are more focused and can read their own handwriting and they are smart as the dickens. They just don’t know as much about sin as we do.”)
While Haynes has practiced both criminal and civil law, his heart – and proselytizing – is clearly in criminal law. “If you practice criminal law, you’re going to help people who need it the most,” he told the students.
And a final axiom from a true legal thoroughbred? “How do you become a great lawyer? Work, work, work,” he said. In tribute to the man and his career, the session closed with a long ovation from appreciative students.