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.