Michael Wayne Ramsey

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Wednesday, October 2nd, 2019
Michael Wayne Ramsey

Michael Wayne Ramsey, age 79, a loving husband, father, and brother, died on Saturday, the 27th of July 2019, in Channelview, Texas.

Mike was born in Galveston on the 18th of February 1940 to Vestal Vernon Ramsey and Dorothy Arlene Ramsey. He was preceded in death by his parents. He is survived by his loving wife Betty Sharon Ramsey, who he met in high school and married while attending law school; his two children, Christopher W. Ramsey and Mark Lynn Ramsey; his sister, Wendy Williams, and her husband Johnny Williams; niece Heather Cook and her husband Matthew and their children, Charles and Christian; and niece Holly Jarman and her husband Michael and their children, Katherine and Grace.

Mike was raised on the Gulf Coast and, during the war years, in Shelby County, particularly Teneha and Center while his father served as a naval officer in the Southern Pacific. His earliest memories were the sound of guns off the beaches of Normandy and Roosevelt’s prayer for the welfare of the men involved. Mike’s family moved to Channelview when he was a young child and lived there the rest of his life. Though Mike was known to many as one of the finest, if not the finest, criminal defense attorneys in Houston, in his heart he was always very proud to call Channelview home. He graduated from Robert E. Lee High School in Baytown, Texas, then attended college and law school at Southern Methodist University, receiving a JD in 1965.

He went to work for William F. “Bill” Walsh, one of Percy Foreman’s old partners, immediately after graduation. Two years later, he was traded by Bill Walsh to Richard “Racehorse” Haynes for a second lien on a 1949 Chevrolet and broken set of Corpus Juris Secundum. He worked for $37.50a week until about 1973, when he set up his own law practice in Houston.

Mike was exposed to high-profile cases from the beginning. Along with Walsh, Mike served as special prosecutor in the case against Frank Briscoe, the district attorney of Harris County. Frank was represented by every major law firm in town, amounting to some 400 lawyers, against Mike, who had never tried a case, and Walsh. Mike also participated with Walsh in the defense of the first black man elected to a county-wide office in a felony theft case. When he went to work with Haynes, where he was paid but a pittance, he was given an opportunity to choose which cases he to pick up and go to court with—and there were many of them. One year Mike tried over 40 jury trials. Soon, he began to win cases and developed his own reputation and identity.

He and Haynes developed a method of trying cases together: They would do sort of an Abbott and Costello routine. Mike would commence argument to the jury, and at some point, usually predetermined, Haynes would stand up and contradict him over some minor point. They would exchange recollections and Mike would gradually fade away while Haynes would seize the argument and close the case. In one memorable occasion where they were defending a former lawyer colleague, Mike opened by saying, among other things, “If you are going to convict a lawyer because of the size of fee, you ought to start with that short little band-legged lawyer sitting next to me, who you would give a death penalty for the size of his fee.”

That was Haynes’ cue to stand up and object to the remark, and after the exchange move into argument. In one well-publicized case Haynes and Ramsey tried together the first time, the jury hung 11–1 for conviction. This was the Arelleno Silva case involving the brutal beating death of a beautiful blonde real estate agent with a medieval mace. It had been publicized so much in the Hispanic community that Mike started to refer to it as the prosecution of the last Mexican on the scene. The bishop sold his ring to help raise money to pay Haynes for the first trial. The second time around, money was not available and Mike was compelled to try it alone. He won a not guilty verdict and gained momentum enough to open his own office.

In 1976, Mike opened a law practice with George Tyson, and they practiced together until Mike retired in 2012. Along with George, Mike developed a substantial and star-studded referral base: Warren Burnett, Jim Kronzer, Joe Jamail, and managing partners at Vinson & Elkins. Another of Mike’s many notable cases included the alleged murder by Houston police officers of a young Mexican, Joe Campos Torres, by drowning him in Buffalo Bayou (it made the cover of Rolling Stone magazine). Mike, along with Bob Bennett, tried a murder case and received a simple assault resulting in a six-month unsupervised probation.

Among Mike’s most notorious victories were the murder trials of Robert Angleton and Robert Durst, both of which resulted in acquittals. The Durst acquittal was recognized as “verdict of the year” by the National Law Journal.

Mike mentored many young lawyers during his career, most notably Chip Lewis, who was like a son to Mike. Chip practiced with Ramsey & Tyson from the mid-’90s until Mike’s retirement. Beyond the attorneys, Mike’s most trusted and indispensable adviser over the last 30 years was his loyal office manager, Derissa Cheatham, who took care of most of Mike’s business, especially during the last seven years of his life when he became ill.

Mike received countless honors during his legal career and was considered by many to be one of the finest criminal defense attorneys not only in Houston, but throughout the country. He received every national, state, and local accolade that a lawyer can receive. In 2010, he was inducted into the TCDLA Hall of Fame. Mike was very much a gentleman lawyer and had a very pleasing manner that served him well in the courtroom. He was known to be the very best attorney at cross-examination of witnesses.

Mike was very proud of his roots in Channelview, and he loved defending the underdog and underprivileged. The description on Mike’s urn aptly reads “Who God Abandoned, Mike Defended.” Mike authored a book entitled Uncle Bit, which recalled his humble upbringing in East Texas.

Mike’s family is very grateful for the many caretakers who helped him during the last few years of his life, including Gertie Marshall, Joyce Jones, Nikki Daugherty, and Arlean Richardson.