HOUSTON -- He is perhaps Houston's most famous "super-lawyer," but on Wednesday legal legend Richard "Racehorse" Haynes spent an hour and a half on the witness stand answering allegations about a potential conflict of interest.
U.S. District Court records indicate Haynes was hired in 2004 by Houston businessman Dong Dang Huynh. The owner of U.S. Tours and Remittance Inc. had been charged with money laundering and conspiracy for allegedly funneling millions in proceeds from the sale of the drug ecstasy to his native country of Vietnam.
Huynh hired Haynes at an initial fee of $885,000.? ?The legal services contract also included compensation for retired District Judge John V. Singleton who brought the case to Haynes and served as a legal consultant.
But the allegations of conflict of interest involve Haynes and a second attorney: Walter A. Boyd III.
The original indictment included Dong Dang Huynh and his nephew Duc Dang Huynh.? In April 2004, Dong hired Haynes to represent him and hired Boyd to represent Duc.
By June 2005, Duc had entered a guilty plea and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, and testify against his uncle in exchange for a lenient sentence. But records show that also in June of 2005, Haynes and Boyd became law partners and formed Haynes, Boyd & Associates, P.C.? Evidence offered by Duc to federal investigators, records show, ultimately resulted in a new indictment filed against his uncle.
The new indictment records indicate Dong paid "Racehorse" Haynes an additional $120,000 in legal fees.
At Dong Huynh's trial in July 2009, Duc Huynh did in fact testify against his uncle, and last month, Dong was sentenced to 22 years in prison.
Now, Dong Huynh and a new legal team are asking for a new trial based on the allegation that the Boyd and Haynes partnership constituted a serious conflict of interest that they should have revealed to Judge Melinda Harmon.
"What the law says is that a lawyer can't represent either both sides of a case or have adverse interests in his representation," said South Texas College of Law Professor Gerald Treece.
"You can't have two masters. You can't answer to two different sources," Treece said.? The 11 News legal expert admits that he counts Haynes as one of his biggest mentors and Boyd as a good friend.?
"I frankly have a hard time believing these guys, as smart as they are, would not know the conflict rules."
Haynes said he relied on Walter Boyd III to research the ethical issues related to their representation of both Dong Dang Huynh and Duc Dang Huynh. He believed they had adequately established a "Chinese Wall."? The legal term refers to efforts within a law firm to completely separate the representation of one client from the representation of another. But Haynes also admitted in court proceedings on Wednesday that he has not been able to find a written waiver of conflict of interest which would normally be on file in a situation like this.? But he says the potential conflict was disclosed to Dong Dang Huynh on more than one occasion.
In his affidavit Dong Dang Huynh claims he did not realize that "the membership of Mr. Haynes and Mr. Boyd in the same law firm created a conflict of interest" in his case. And that if he "understood the conflict of interest, (he) would have insisted that Mr. Haynes not represent him) anymore?"
From the witness stand Wednesday, Haynes said those statements in Dong Dang Huynh's affidavit were false:? that he did have those discussions with him.
Haynes was asked if he tried to commit fraud or deceive the court.
"Absolutely no I did not," he said from the witness stand.?
Huynh's new attorney also asked Haynes if he felt the arrangement with Boyd hindered his ability to provide Huynh an adequate defense.
"I hope not. I don't think it did," Haynes responded.
Judge Melinda Harmon has taken the allegations from Huynh's new legal team under advisement. His attorneys as well as prosecutors are expected to file their legal arguments by the first week of November. Harmon is expected to rule on the conflict of interest issue later that same month.