Sunday, April 30, 2017

John Hill, Racehorse and The Best Case Ever

Richard Haynes died late Thursday night, April 27, 2017.

I first remember hearing Racehorse Haynes' name in the early 1970's - from my father. Houston was a much smaller community then, and the local medical community was even smaller. My father is an OB/GYN who back then knew and liked a plastic surgeon named John Hill. Haynes represented Hill when Hill was indicted and tried for murdering his wife, the socialite Joan Robinson Hill. Like Haynes, my father came to fervently believe what killed Joan Hill was toxic shock syndrome and not some cockamamie scheme involving poisoned pastries.

I later got to meet not only Haynes, but the other major player in the Hill legal maelstrom - Ernie Ernst, the Harris County Assistant D.A. who tried the Hill case against Haynes to mistrial. I actually had the opportunity to try a case in front of Ernst, who by then was a District Court judge in Walker County - and while the jury was out we talked at length about the Hill case. I remember Judge Ernst being surprised I knew so much about it - but how could I not?

Both these legal legends are gone now, and we in the legal community are the poorer for it.

Yet the Hill case was not Haynes' best trial work. This quote from a Houston Chronicle story about Haynes' self described biggest case really is all anyone needs to read to understand why the criminal defense bar revered Haynes.
Nope, Haynes said. The best case he ever won was when he represented a poor black man unjustly taking the rap for a white guy who stole some tools from a construction site. After a jury found the defendant not guilty, his client's impoverished family threw a party for Haynes at their Third Ward house, and his children hung up a sign saying, 'God bless lawyer Haynes.' He was one of the most famous lawyers ever to set foot in a Houston courtroom, but he never forgot that sign.
I watched Haynes try a DWI case in Bryan many years ago. Haynes was one of the few lawyers that when they showed up to try a case, the local bar would turn out just to watch. He was that much a legend. I have a signed picture of Haynes hanging in my office, courtesy of local attorney Heath Poole. It is one of my most prized legal possessions.

No comments:

Post a Comment