Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: What Makes a Great Defender

The primary goal of this blog is to highlight women in the criminal defense field and to draw attention to the great work that they do. We try to accomplish this is several ways – from interviewing leaders in the field to shining a spotlight on current cases involving fellow women defense attorneys.

Today, we are going to launch a new series. I want to give women in our field the opportunity to share their thoughts about what it takes to be a great defender. I think that this could be a valuable way to help younger female criminal lawyers learn what it takes to do this job well. In this first installment, I am going to share some of my thoughts and talk about what motivates me. In future installments, we will open up the floor and hear from other women criminal defense attorneys.

I am one of those criminal defense attorneys that believe that it is honor to represent my clients. In fact, as many can attest, I really like my clients. I don’t think it is cool to walk around calling your clients names or making fun of them, which we have all heard before. I am not embarrassed to admit that I have gotten choked up at trial or a sentencing. Most of our clients, even corporations, which are made up of real people last I looked, are facing consequences that sometimes warrant emotion. And I believe that the people who decide our clients’ fate, both judges and jurors, should be confronted with the emotional reality of those serious decisions.

I tell jurors that every year I do this job I am more and more humbled by the significance and privilege that it is to stand with a person in their darkest and toughest hours. I fight for every client like it is my last client. They get every ounce of fight in me. My motto is to never give up and I don’t. I have been called determined, relentless, and dogged. And for my clients I am all of those things.

I am fortunate to be able to say I don’t take tons of clients because it allows me to focus on my role of guiding and protecting the ones that I do have in the criminal justice system. And I think they are better for it. For me representing a client is a holistic and organic process. From the moment I begin representing a client I start using the word “we”, because from my perspective we are in this together. And I work on getting to know my clients, their stories, and their experiences because I believe it serves my ability to tell their story and their perspective.

Of course it is not always easy and there are challenging attorney-client relationships. But when it is hard I dig down and remind myself of how scared and afraid the client must be and I go back at it and try even harder. And often I am more surprised than anyone at what I find. I am thinking of a specific case where the client and I had a really tough time relating and once I dug down and pushed through it either I was able to see something that I was blind to, or the client was able to finally trust me. And, that critical fact that we uncovered saved the client 28 months in prison.

So what makes a great defender? From my perspective, it is very simple; a great and true defender has heart. My assistant has a wonderful line, when she critiques food. She will say it is “made with love” or that it isn’t. She is unwavering and clear about her critique because she says you can just tell the difference. And the truth is she is right. And the one thing that makes the difference in a great criminal defense attorney is heart. There are many ways to do the job satisfactorily but there is only one way to do this job striving for greatness, and that is while wearing your heart and soul on your sleeve.

Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: Find Your Voice

A recent Harvard Business Review article titled “Women, Find Your Voice,” by Kathryn Heath, Jill Flynn and Mary Davis Holt from the consulting firm Flynn Health Holt caught my eye. The article discusses the reality that many women have a difficult time finding their voice in a boardroom meeting, based on research conducted by surveying 7000 workers, including 110 female executives and 270 female managers of Fortune 500 companies about their issues with company meetings.

The research found that many women have trouble finding a strong voice in this setting. Men complained that women don’t have enough volume in their voice and often allow themselves to be interrupted. They also felt that women apologize too often and don’t provide fact-based evidence. Women described feeling outnumbered and having a hard time presenting a dissenting view when there seemed to be a consensus. “Many women admitted that they do get rattled when they’re challenged,” the authors wrote, “In fact, they’re uncomfortable with conflict in general. They find it unsettling when anyone receives a sharp public rebuke, and they often brood and second-guess themselves long after meetings are over.”

Biz Journal highlighted the article and outlined some of the authors’ suggestions on how to deal with these issues:

“1. Build allies in the boardroom: ‘Women could go a long way toward addressing the problem of timing and their feelings of isolation if they sounded out colleagues and built allies in this way,’ the authors note.

2. Consider joining Toastmasters: Learning how to speak extemporaneously is an important skill to master.

3. Come to meetings with ideas already prepared: ‘Women who do their homework and come to a meeting with an accurate sense of what it’s really about and how it will probably unfold can build on others’ remarks,’ the authors wrote. ‘Being armed with some cogent comments or questions can allow them to move the conversation forward.’

4. Keep your emotions in check: It may be a stereotype, but the authors suggest that women try to control their emotions and use language that doesn’t convey uncertainty. ‘Women need to ensure that they are seen as composed and in command of their emotions,’ the report noted. ‘It is not so much what women say as how they say it. They need to keep an even tone, not shift to a higher pitch when under duress. They need to speak deliberately and avoid signaling frustration through sarcasm or curtness.’

For women criminal defense attorneys who spend plenty of time in meetings with clients and other colleagues, this is important food for thought. How many of us have to sit through client pitches or meetings with co-counsels and opposing counsels? We probably aren’t the shyest bunch around, but I think the candor in this article will resonate with all women. Women come to the table with a different skill set and it’s critical that we openly discuss what we need to work on in order to position ourselves for success.

Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: Please Don’t Go, Justice Ginsburg!

There has been rampant speculation about who would be the next Supreme Court Justices replacing Justice Ginsburg and Justice Kennedy, since President Obama made a comment at a fundraiser in Massachusetts about future Supreme Court vacancies. From my point of view, The ABA Journal got it one hundred percent right when they said that Justice Ginsburg would be replaced by a woman, and that the appointment of a justice to replace Justice Kennedy would result in a political World War III. One of names that has been floated as a possible replacement to Justice Ginsburg was Patricia Millet who was appointed last year to the DC Court of Appeals. We highlighted her work on a significant insider trading case before she took the bench.

Without question the replacement of Justice Ginsburg needs to be a woman. And if you remember her comment about when there would be enough women on the Supreme Court, I think she was correct when she stated, “When There are Nine.” Just recently Justice Ginsburg spoke at an address at Duke University about her desire for ‘Equal Dignity for Women in the Court Decisions’. She told the audience that the Court speaks of equal dignity in recent LGBT rights decisions but the court has yet to embrace “the ability of women to decide for themselves with what their destiny will be.” Obviously this is not to say that Justice Ginsburg is unsupportive of LGBT rights but she is correctly noting that women deserve as much equality as any group in this country. Justice Ginsburg continues to voice her concern over the Hobby Lobby decision. In her blistering dissent she said the court “has ventured into a minefield.” The New York Times wrote about her comments and noted that “She said the court’s five-justice conservative majority, all men, did not understand the challenges women face in achieving authentic equality.”

What a concept! Authentic equality. Not lip service or token positions but real authentic equality. Isn’t that what is at the heart of the debate to reenergize the women’s movement? We will need many more authentic woman leaders and champions like Justice Ginsburg to get us there. I know that there are many capable candidates out there to replace her, and surely Patricia Millet is one of them, but these are huge shoes to fill not only as a legal scholar but as a voice for women’s rights everywhere. In spite of the obvious politics surrounding Supreme Court appointments that are in place to ensure the appointment of a replacement liberal justice, I just can’t help but think… Please don’t go Justice Ginsburg!

Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: Cris Arguedas Representing FedEx in Historic Criminal Case

FedEx was criminally charged in the Northern District of California with trafficking drugs for illegal web pharmacies. One of our fellow women defense attorneys, Cris Arguedas of San Francisco, California, is lead counsel with Allen Ruby for FedEx. Arguedas has a national reputation for her involvement in the defense of many high profile defendants like Barry Bonds and as a member of the OJ Simpson team. I have had the pleasure of interviewing Cris Arguedas, heard her speak, and met her in San Francisco. She is one of the great true defenders in this country and FedEx clearly has demonstrated their commitment to defending themselves in their wise choice of defense counsel.

Arguedas appeared in Court at the end of the July and entered a Not Guilty Plea to the Indictment stating in court, “We are a transportation company, not a pharmacy, not a website, not a doctor.” The allegation is that FedEx delivered drugs from internet pharmacies that supplied pharmaceuticals to patients that were never examined by a doctor but rather based on them filling out a questionnaire. Arguedas said, “The Company has cooperated with the Department of Justice throughout its multiyear investigation,” and “FedEx will continue to defend its conduct and its people.”

This prosecution is part of the government’s crackdown on online pharmacies. Last year the United Parcel Services, Inc agreed to forfeit $40 million for shipping from illicit online pharmacies under a non prosecution agreement with the Justice Department, Walgreens and CVS.

A decision like United States Parcel Services made to settle with the Department of Justice has become commonplace in this country. It is now the standard cost of doing business that US and International companies and banks wanting to do business in the United States will inevitably have to settle with the government over an investigation or probe into their criminal and regulatory violations. The problem with this practice is that the Government’s allegations are never truly tested. They don’t have to prove their allegations in a court of law subject to a legal standard that exists to protect the rights of individuals and companies.

The charges leveled in the FedEx case are particularly concerning because at the heart of the allegation is the notion that a company should be responsible for policing its customers. Sound familiar? This is a dangerous slippery slop. Thankfully for FedEx and the rest of us for that matter, Cris Arguedas is leading the fight against such an injustice.

Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: United States Sentencing Commission to Review Fraud Guidelines

Just last week the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) announced its priorities for the upcoming year and they have included a review of sentences in economic crimes. The press release quoted Judge Patti Saris, Chair of the Commission, as saying “For the past several years, we have been reviewing data and listening to key stakeholders to try to determine whether changes are needed in the way fraud offenses are sentenced in the federal system, particularly in fraud on the market cases,” Saris said. “We look forward to hearing more this year from judges, experts, victims, and other stakeholders on these issues and deciding whether there are ways the economic crime guidelines could work better.”

Some federal judges have grown increasingly critical of the fraud guidelines. One such judge from the Southern District of New York, Judge Jed S. Rakoff, was recently quoted in a Newsweek article, Nonsensical Sentences for White Collar Criminals stating that “Insider trading is a serious offense, and it is very important there is prison time to send a strong message,” he said “But the arithmetic behind the sentencing calculations is all hocus-pocus—it’s nonsensical, and I mean that sincerely. It gives the illusion of something meaningful with no real value underneath.” The criticism is focused on the fact that the guidelines are driven by monetary loss amounts and as Judge Rakoff points out, “The way it’s set up now, you may be the lead offender in a crime or the low man on the totem pole and still get the same sentence,” Rakoff says.

Sound familiar? It is not news to any white-collar practitioner out there that white-collar clients are receiving excessive sentences for economic crimes. I could tell countless stories where I have personally seen clients sentenced to grotesque sentences for nonviolent financial crimes that often times far exceed the time that a violent offender might face in an overburdened state system. Something has to change, and at least for now, the USSC’s statement that they are going to make it a priority to review the fraud guidelines is a step in the right direction. Stay tuned.

Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: ABA Margaret Brent Women Lawyer Achievement Awards

In Boston during the ABA Annual meeting, five women were honored as recipients of the 2014 Margaret Brent Award, which was established in 1991 by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession. The award recognizes and celebrates the accomplishments of women lawyers who have not only excelled in their field but also paved the way to success for other women lawyers.

This year’s recipients were Nancy Gertner, Anastasia D. Kelly, Allie B. Latimer, Kathryn Doi Todd, and Marissa Wesely. The overwhelming theme expressed by the award winners during the event was that there is still an uphill path to equality for women and more work is needed. Nancy Gertner discussed the impact of decisions like Burwell v. Hobby Lobby on securing equal rights for women and added that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was right in stating that some of her colleagues have a “blind spot” in some matters concerning women.

You can read the extended bios of the 2014 women recipients here. Congratulations to them all and thank you for all that you have done and continue to do to promote the success and advancement of women lawyers.

Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: Interview with Letitia Quinones

LQLetitia D. Quinones brings over 14 years of criminal law practice to her clients in Houston, throughout the state of Texas, and across the nation. Criminal defense is her passion and she fights hard and tirelessly to preserve the rights of the people. Letitia has made an exceptional name for herself as a criminal trial lawyer and defends cases ranging from misdemeanors to federal felonies. Letitia is a single parent of two wonderful girls, ages 8 and 17 and has worked very hard to achieve success and the respect of her peers. As a African-American female, it was not always easy to over-come the stereotypes that exist in a Caucasian-male dominated field, however Letitia’s motto is “With hard work, due diligence, and using God’s naturally given gifts for his good – YOU CANNOT FAIL!” I enjoyed speaking with Letitia and I hope you’ll find her perspective as interesting as I did.

What inspired you to specialize in criminal defense?

My inspiration to become a criminal defense lawyer was fueled from my life’s experiences. As a young girl living in the urban parts of San Antonio, I saw many injustices occur in my neighborhood. Some of these injustices affected my childhood as well as the lives of my friends in very detrimental ways. I was always interested in making sure that people were treated fairly and fixing injustices.

When you started practicing what was the criminal defense field like for women? What about for minorities? What challenges did you face, if any, based on your gender or race?

When I initially started practicing, and even today, women were not viewed as equals in the courtroom. I often was treated as “just another pretty face.” This only motivated me to work harder to prove that I was just as capable of handling high quality cases as the next male lawyer. Back then, before I proved myself, I often dealt with men saying inappropriate things that were sexually suggestive, which made me angry and uncomfortable. Adding to the agitation was the way I was treated for also being a woman of color. I was often asked to show my credentials in the courtroom, where my Caucasian counterparts never dealt with these types of issues. On a couple of occasions, I was asked if I was a defendant. Of course my response was, “how many defendants in here are wearing a suit, carrying a briefcase and walking throughout the well of the court – moron?”

Did you have access to women role models? How did that impact your career?

Unfortunately as a young lawyer I was not afforded access to woman role models, as 15 years ago they simply were few and far between. As I became a more seasoned and experienced attorney and women begin to rise through the ranks, more role models surfaced. Not having a role model during my early years as a lawyer truly affected the time it took for me to learn how to conduct myself as a female attorney. What I mean is that as a women, you must dress professionally, wear your hair conservatively, and conduct yourself in a manner where you are tough but not a bitch! Learning all these unwritten rules on my own was a challenge. Now, I do what I can to reach back and give young female attorneys sound advice on how to earn the respect of our peers.

Are there any unique aspects about being a woman that either help or hinder you when you represent a client?

Being a female attorney surely has its advantages and disadvantages. Specifically, in a male dominated field, one disadvantage is that as a woman you constantly have to prove you are tough enough to be in the game. Advantages are that sometimes being a woman can soften up that male prosecutor or judge. Surely, the emotional side of a woman can be beneficial when you are dealing with clients’ fears and insecurities during the process. A woman’s bedside manner is simply better than a man’s and it proves for better customer service.   You just need to know when to use what trait. The ability to use your womanhood at the proper time comes with experience and practice.

Have you seen recent representations by women criminal defense attorneys that you thought were outstanding? If so what made these women stand out to you?

There are not many women that practice in the federal criminal defense field. However, every now and then I have come across a formidable woman opponent. Specifically, I remember a prosecutor from DC who was strong, beautiful, intelligent and effective. Her hard work and zeal to fight all while maintaining her femininity impressed me.

What part of defending a client most fuels you? Drains you?

What fuels me the most is when someone is not afforded their rights or punished for exercising their right to a jury trial or the constitution. Nothing pisses me off more than for a prosecutor to become agitated because I require them to do their job and abide by the constitution or use a sense of reasonableness when addressing the issues of a particular client. What drains me the most is when a prosecutor only sees things in black and white and does not consider the gray areas of real life. A client can also drain me when they are unrealistic with their expectations and then blame whatever consequences on their attorney!

Case that has most stayed with you through the years and why?

The case that sticks with me the most is that of a young African-American male that was charged with murdering his wife after a fight concerning her infidelity. This young man was an outstanding member of our society; he was captain of his college debate team, college graduate, loving and devoted husband to his high school sweetheart, home owner and a managing employee of the United States social security office. Certainly a man whose word should have been regarded in high esteem, however the homicide detective immediately set his sight on the worst, that this young man was his wife’s killer. It was my job to prove to the jury that he was the man that he lived his life as. I was first given the case 30 days before our first trial. I was only able to minimally prepare for trial. As God would have it, I was able to hang the jury, 11 for guilty and one for not guilty. After the mistrial, I had a full year to prepare for the next trial. At the next trial, through our expert witness, I was able to dismantle the state’s entire case after cross-examining their medical examiner. After my cross examination of the medical examiner, the prosecutor stopped the trial to further investigate the case, after further investigation, the state conceded that the wife had shot herself and it was determined her death was a suicide as opposed to a homicide. All charges were dismissed against this young man and his life was restored. This case will always stick with me as I was able to save a young man’s life.

What was the biggest fear that you had to overcome in your career? What hurdles did you have to overcome that you were not expecting?

My biggest fear in my career was not being successful at my craft or not living up to my own potential. I am very hard on myself, because as a female attorney, we have to work so hard for respect and equal pay. We must work 5 times harder to get equal respect.

Women face so many challenges juggling work and family, how are you meeting that challenge?

It is very difficult to manage work and my children. I am a single parent with two girls who are very active and as you can imagine juggling their schedules can be overwhelming at times. I do receive a lot of help from family and staff members. The most important thing is time management and keeping a tight schedule.

What advice would you give a young woman who wants to be a criminal defense lawyer and have her own practice one day?

The most important advice I would give a young woman who wants to become a criminal defense lawyer is to create tough skin, be professional in every aspect of your life, and don’t play and work in the same place. Women are looked at differently and to preserve your level of respect and integrity, you cannot avail yourself to those types of stigmas… so play outside the workplace and maintain your dignity.

Best advice you ever received?

The best advice I have ever received is: “When you leave the courtroom, there should be blood, piss, sweat and tears on the ceiling to let them know you were there!” Oh, and pay your taxes!!!!

One thing people who know you don’t know about you?

I have an overwhelming desire to make a difference on this earth that will last long after I am gone! And that as stand-offish as I may appear, I am a very understanding woman who empathizes with all human beings of any stature of life.

Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: Angie Halim Successfully Defends Philadelphia Traffic Judge

Just last week Angie Halim, a criminal defense lawyer from Philadelphia, won an acquittal of the primary charges for a Traffic Court Judge who was charged with fraud along with five other Traffic Court Judges. The US Government alleged that the group of judges conspired to fix traffic tickets and give associates breaks on traffic tickets, which supposedly cost the city thousands or possibly millions of dollars. The judges were charged with conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, and perjury. Halim represented Judge Robert Mulgrew who, along with all six judges, was acquitted of the most significant charges. Mulgrew was convicted of perjury, along with some of the other defendants, for lying about receiving consideration for fixing the tickets of certain VIPs. It seems a little counterintuitive but we all know that is how the jury system works sometimes.

Halim reportedly used a very effective demonstrative aide in closing that sent a clear message about the ridiculousness of the Government’s case. The Philadelphia Magazine summarized the closing arguments and highlighted a pie chart that Halim used to demonstrate what amounted to a frivolous amount of “fixed” tickets. She pointed out through her chart that of the 66,000 tickets Mulgrew adjudicated from 2008-2011, the FBI deemed only 16, which was 0.01 percent, of them as “fixed.” The Philadelphia Magazine reported that “in what was arguably the most crowd-pleasing visual aid of the day, Halim used a gigantic orange pie chart to demonstrate how miniscule 0.01 percent really is, zooming in on an otherwise invisible green dot that represented the amount of tickets Mulgrew is accused of ‘fixing’.” Halim was reported as arguing, “Mr. Mulgrew did the best he could in an imperfect system.” In the end, the jury clearly agreed with her and acquitted her client of the primary charges, but ironically found him guilty of perjury. Mulgrew was also charged in a separate fraud and tax case which he had previously plead guilty to relating to the misuse of State of Pennsylvania grant funds and filing a false tax return. The sentencing was postponed until the conclusion of the ticket fixing trial.

Any criminal defense attorney that has fought for a client in federal court knows that you should never underestimate the Government in a trial. But it is also safe to say the Government should never underestimate Angie Halim. Bravo to her. I continue to be impressed by the caliber of women champions of justice in Philadelphia.

Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: Current Happenings in Criminal Defense

During the annual meeting of the ABA Criminal Justice Section held in Boston, Massachusetts August 7 through August 10th, one of our own, Cynthia Orr, along with James Felman, will be installed as Co-Chairs of the Criminal Justice Section. For many years Cynthia has been a champion for women in the field and continues to pave the way for women to hold positions of leadership and find ways to support their advancement. Congrats to Cynthia for this honor and continuing to be a source of pride and an example to all women criminal defense lawyers.

Also, during the NACDL Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, the Foundation for Criminal Justice will host its 2014 Awards Dinner at the National Constitution Center on August 1, 2014. Click here to learn more about this must attend event or to donate to the foundation. Kerry Kennedy, President of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, is the featured speaker. Cynthia Orr, past president of the NACDL, will receive the Robert C. Heeney Award. Current NACDL Secretary Rick Jones will receive the Champion of Justice Award. Also just this week, NACDL announced that Attorney General Eric Holder will address the NACDL annual meeting and seminar attendees at 10am on August 1st. The seminar and meeting is a perfect time to get more involved with the NACDL and meet criminal defense lawyers from all over the country.

I don’t know about you but I am beginning to feel more hopeful in my role of defending the criminally accused. Let’s face it, the last two decades for the criminal defendant were quite depressing. But even though I’m almost afraid to trust them…there are signs of hope. From the Supreme Court’s decision in Riley v. California which held that law enforcement couldn’t generally search, without a warrant, digital information on a cell phone seized pursuant to an arrest; to the United States Sentencing Commission just this week unanimously voting to apply a delayed reduction of the drug quantity tables retroactively to most federal inmates serving time for drug trafficking offenses as of November 2015. The commission estimated that this could affect almost 50,000 incarcerated inmates. Judge Patti B. Saris, chair of the Commission ended the news release stating “The step the Commission is taking today is an important one,” she said “but only Congress can bring about the more comprehensive reforms needed to reduce disparities, fully address prison costs and populations, and make the federal criminal justice system work better.”

Even five years ago I wouldn’t have believed it if someone told me the conversation about the criminally accused would change so radically. If someone had told me our Attorney General would be lecturing around the country about Smart Sentencing or that anyone in this country would care about collateral consequences for convicted felons, I would have had to pinch myself to make sure I was awake. Let’s hope that these positive signs translate into real change. And let’s hope that more women attorneys like Cynthia Orr are able to obtain positions of leadership and influence. It’s an exciting time for women in our field and let’s keep building momentum.

Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: Ex BigLaw Lawyer and IMF Director Christine Lagarde Discusses Women and Leadership

Christine Lagarde, the International Monetary Fund’s managing director and former Baker & McKenzie executive committee chair recently discussed women in leadership and it was a fascinating conversation. Lagarde took over the IMF immediately following the abrupt resignation of Dominique Strauss-Kahn over allegations of sexual assault. She was the first woman and first non-economist to lead the organization.

Lagarde said, “I have a theory that women are generally given space and appointed to jobs when the situation is tough. I’ve observed that in many instances. In times of crisis, women eventually are called upon to sort out the mess, face the difficult issues and be completely focused on restoring the situation.” Maybe she is really on to something… especially when you consider that GM’s first woman CEO, Mary Barra, was appointed right at the start of a major crisis for GM. At first the news articles heralded her appointment as a true breaking of Detroit’s car industry glass ceiling. Then we started to hear that her pay was half of that of her predecessor and now CEO Mary Barra is at the heart of a controversy over the company’s recall of millions of small cars based on a flaw in the ignition switch which has lead to a Congressional Investigation.

Lagarde discusses the need for women to get more comfortable in their own skin and bodies and to put aside the outside pressure to constantly change themselves. She explains that this mindset is an integral part of how a woman commands a room as a leader. She also discussed the need to have more women on the IMF board, which is currently made up entirely of men. She never had a career plan and shared the advice her American father gave her at 17… “Don’t let the bastards get you.” Great advice for a slew of circumstances that any woman criminal lawyer may find herself in. Read the entire interview on the Washington Post here.