Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Rayford Carter

I was very sad to hear this morning that legendary defense attorney Rayford Carter passed away.  He had been very ill for quite some time.

When I describe Rayford as "legendary," I think that very few people around the Harris County Criminal Justice Center would disagree with me.  Almost every prosecutor, defense attorney or judge in the building has at least one "Rayford story" that they can tell.  Hell, I can think of at least ten of them off the top of my head.  It is worth pointing out that whenever one tells a Rayford story, it is pretty much mandatory that the storyteller do his or her best to mimic Rayford's gravelly voice.

To be clear, Rayford stories are not ones told at Rayford's expense.  They usually involve something incredibly funny or crude that he had the guts to say out loud.  One of the cleaner ones I posted here a while back.

At a height of at least six foot six and with a full head of white hair, Rayford was one of those people that you just couldn't help but notice based on his appearance alone.  He was always sharply dressed and liked to point out to young prosecutors that he could afford those suits because he made more money than they would in their entire careers.  With his deadpan delivery fused with impatience and feigned hostility, somehow Rayford was one of the more endearing characters I ever met since practicing criminal law.  The man could berate a prosecutor for disagreeing with him and leave that prosecutor laughing hysterically.

Rayford loved bantering back and forth with prosecutors.  Trading insults and potshots with him was almost a rite of passage for any young prosecutor.  I always enjoyed the verbal sparring with him.  As a matter of fact, I used to enjoy arguing with Rayford so much that when I was a Two in Judge Davies court, she would have her coordinator make me go in the back when Rayford came in the courtroom.  Apparently our insult swapping became a distraction to court business.

I can remember on at least one occasion towards the end of a docket where half of the audience left in the courtroom was listening intently as he and I went back and forth.  All of them were laughing hysterically.

By the way, I never won an argument with Rayford.

The only way to even call a draw in an argument with him was to make him laugh, but that was not an easy thing to do.  To my recollection, I was only able to do it once.

Although his name was known by every prosecutor, judge and defense attorney in the building, he rarely bothered to learn anyone else's name.  Once in Judge Poe's court, he wanted a deferred adjudication on a burglary of a building case.  I told him that if he could tell me the names of five prosecutors that I would give it to him.  He could only name Chuck Rosenthal and Ira Jones.

Sometime after that, I saw him in the hallways and he called me by name.  I nearly collapsed from shock.  When I told him how flattered I was that he remembered my name, he told me I was stupid for getting such a big head and that I wasn't really important enough for him to learn my name.  He never called me by it again.

His method of negotiation with prosecutors was the mentally exhaust them until they ultimately just surrendered and gave him what he was seeking.  He was remarkably successful with that line of attack, too.  Rayford also wasn't afraid of going to trial, either, and the one time I saw him do a closing argument, I was amazed by his courtroom ability.

Over the past few years, his health took a turn for the worse and he developed lung problems that were ultimately so severe that he had to be in a motorized wheelchair.  All of this just added to his legend, as he cruised through the hallways and courtrooms, barking at people that were in his way.  He never let his illness keep him from working.

Rayford Carter was a true icon and legend of the criminal defense world.  He was controversial, gruff, and a curmudgeon of epic proportions, but I don't know of a soul in the courthouse who wasn't deeply saddened to hear of his passing.

I know that I will miss seeing him very much.

17 comments:

Aleka's World said...

Aw... that's sad. Great post, Murray!

Alexandra M said...

Aw... that's sad. Great post, Murray.di

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Talking to friends about Rayford, I was reminded of when he learned I was going through a divorce. He was very much a family man and my divorce distressed him, greatly. He told me:

"You need to work that shit out. I don't know why you go off thinking that the next person is going to like you any better than this one."

Donna Hawkins said...

Rayford could be so incredibly annoying and hysterically funny at the same time. He was truly an original. We verbally sparred on many occasions-- once another defense attorney heard him call me (rhymes with witch). The other attorney got really angry at him, and I remember Rayford saying, "I wasn't talkin' bout HER--I said this case is a _itch!

Trials could be long, drawn-out affairs, but he beat the rec a time or two.

Rest in peace, Rayford. But I imagine that you are already lining up the angels for some litigation in the sky.

Donna

Anonymous said...

This sucks. Rayford was a fixture. He was part of the damn building. It'll be like going to a court and one of the walls isn't there.

Anonymous said...

"...when he learned I was going through a divorce."

Which one?

Anonymous said...

Any prosecutor who dealt with Mr. Carter heard the following, along with the bond audience:

"Son, I've got more money in my pocket than you've got in your bank account."

Sadly, it was probably true. He will be missed.

Anonymous said...

I have mixed feelings about Rayford. He was a fixture around the courthouse and he was hilarious if you didn't take him seriously. He was also a race-baiter and would routinely turn down offers and get 3X as much time from a jury that was offended by his race-baiting. He was a dinosaur. RIP Rayford. I wish him no ill will in the afterlife, but I don't think we should celebrate his unprofessionalism just because he passed.

Anonymous said...

I was assigned to a court that had on its docket a defendant very personal to Mr. Carter (I never called him by his first name; it just didn't seem fitting). He was not the attorney of record on the case, but was familar with the facts and circumstances of the case and the State's recommendation regarding punishment. We figured that Mr. Carter, upon seeing the rec on the file--probation instead of deferred for burglary of a habitation, would launch into a tirade as to why the State's apparent racism or lack of fairness or distaste for Mr. Carter's politics and/or personality would lead to such an offer, but he didn't. He looked at the file without opening it, pointed at the rec with his long, bony finger multiple times not saying a word, paused, and said, "This defendant is not capable of handling probation or complying with whatever conditions this court sets. You will see this person again on a revocation. Offer them pen time and nothing else. They'll take it." We all sort of stared at him in some sort of amazement and disbelief since in his eyes the State's offers never seemed fair or just--and I guess to a certain extent he was telling us that with this defendant, but if you knew how close this defendant was to Mr. Carter then you understood how painful it must have been for him to make that recommendation. I gained a good deal of respect for him that day because he showed a little vunerability. But like life, sometimes, all good things must come to an end, and then of course, the next day he drove me nuts and I almost launched my own tirade and pen at him.

Anonymous said...

Judge Larry Standley said:

Once upon a time a man walked into the Harris County federal Credit Union and wrote a withdrawal slip for $900.00. The young lady teller dutifully pushed all the buttons and the money was spit out. She put the cash in that little familiar envelope and bid the man "Thank You Sir....have a nice day." The man left with his money. However, moments later he returned, patiently stood in line right back at the same teller's now shorter line.

Upon making his second contact with the young lady, she innocently, yet almost robotic-ally, said without looking up: " Who's next may I help you?" Obviously she was surprised to see this gentleman back so quickly. Before she could utter a word he quietly laid the envelop of money on the counter, slid it to the teller and said: "You might want to count this again" as he towered over her small frame. To her surprise there was 1,000.00 in the envelope. She embarrassingly but gratefully removed one one-hundred dollar bill and replaced it in her drawer and thanked the man profusely. He didn't say a word and quietly walked out the door.

The man: Yes Mr. Carter.

The young lady: My future wife whom I had not yet met at the time.

Mr. Carter you were a good, honest, and honorable man in all the years I worked with you as a prosecutor and even as a Judge when I held you in contempt during a trial. Even then you did not take it personally, and when the jury was brought back in, the trial went on without a hitch. In fact even after THAT day - All Business and respectful yet always, always, a zealous advocate for your clients and above all - truly an honorable honest respected Lawyer and Man.

You ARE missed Rayford...May the Peace of the Lord be with you always...God Bless you and your family.

Larry & Nancee Standley

Anonymous said...

I don't think we should celebrate his unprofessionalism just because he passed.

Funny anecdotes aside, I think this is probably the most accurate thing posted about him so far.

Anyone who brags about how much money he carries is a douchenozzle of the highest degree. Selling his clients out just because of his personal animosity made him even worse.

Long Law Firm said...

Long Law Firm

Attorney Carter will truly be missed, he was an inspiration to us. His family truly have our blessing. Whenever you were in the same court with Mr. Carter and needed a question answered he always had the answer. He was truly an icon. May God Bless
Tara & Dee

Anonymous said...

I found Mr. Carter ill prepared, obnoxious and a horses ass. He was the type of person you tried not to make eye contact with so he would not "get ya" with his weak BS. Let's not get all misty eyed and phony over his passing. He got his way on many cases because everyone got tired of dealing with his crap, not because he was savvy operator. Come on people let's get real. He lived a long life and was a happy person showboating and giving everyone grief. Let's not pretend he was something he wasn't.

Jules said...

To Anons 12:54, 10:06, and 5:32. I hope that when you leave this earth, you are afforded the same deference you have paid Mr. Carter. I hope numerous individuals speak of every obnoxious, unprofessional moment when you might have caused someone else grief. Based on your comments, I would suspect those moments come quite regularly.

May God rest your soul, Mr. Carter. Your stature was matched only by your confidence and your character.

Nephew Charles said...

I truly will miss MY uncle. Eventhough I lived in Illinois, there were numerous times, I called him and he counseled me bout my legal matters. The last time I saw him was at my grandma funeral (his mother), he will be greatly missed!! I am so Godly proud of my uncle and the principles he stood for. And he was the same way in the courtroom as he was outside of it. Love u Uncle Rayford.!!!

Sonja Grant said...

Rayford as I called him was one hell of a lawyer. He never backed down and never apologize for what he believed was right. He was comical and very arrogant but I would hire him any day of the week. And if anyone knows of a civil lawyer with the same aggression and work ethic as Rayford, please call(832) 519-3579 or via email grantsonja@ymail.com. I need a civil lawyer ASAP. Thanks and RIP Rayford.

Anonymous said...

Mister Rayford Carter saved my son's life. Everyday I am grateful that this man came into our lives.May he rest in peace.