Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: Interview with Nina Beattie

Nina_Beattie_62This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nina Beattie who is a partner at Brune & Richard in New York City. Nina is an experienced litigator who focuses her practice on representing individuals and entities in white-collar criminal and regulatory matters. Many of her clients are from the financial sector both in the United States and abroad. She won an acquittal at trial for one of the defendants in the Bear Stearns hedge fund case and she remains at the forefront of representing clients in what is now a highly scrutinized industry. Nina graduated from Yale Law School in 1996 and before joining Brune & Richard, she clerked for a federal judge in the Southern District of New York, and worked at the Capital Defender Office. She has been recognized as a leading lawyer in her field by Chambers USA, which describes her as an “extraordinarily gifted lawyer who is very smart and tremendously hard-working.” She has also been repeatedly identified as one of New York’s top white-collar defense attorneys by Super Lawyers. Nina is a tireless advocate for her clients who are lucky enough to have her by their side and I am thrilled to introduce her to you.

What do you love most about being a criminal defense lawyer?

Getting to know my clients, mastering complicated fact patterns, and working in a very dynamic area of the law. Also, that the stakes are high – that what I do and how I do it matters a lot. Of course, that is also what keeps me up at night.

Much of your practice is focused on white-collar defense and representing clients in regulatory matters. What are some of the challenges you face in white-collar cases?

In a white-collar case, there are usually multiple governmental agencies (not to mention plaintiff’s firms) investigating the client. For example, in a typical financial fraud case, a lot of attention is often focused on the role of the United States Attorney’s Office or some other criminal prosecutorial agency. But often times, the SEC, FINRA or the CFTC is conducting its own parallel investigation or proceeding; and, today, various state agencies – such as the New York State Department of Financial services – as well as US Senate committees can be in the mix, too. In some of the more recent financial crime cases – such as those involving LIBOR and foreign currency manipulation – there have been international regulatory and prosecutorial bodies involved as well, which has added a new layer of complexity.

The challenge comes in when the various entities are not truly coordinated, as is often the case.  If a client does agree to be interviewed or give testimony, it’s likely that he or she may end up giving statements multiple times over a number of years to various different entities and parties. Navigating the best course, knowing that there will be multiple competing considerations, can be quite challenging.

Do you think that women bring unique skills or attributes to defending the criminally accused?

It’s hard to say. There are a number of traits that I think are crucial for any successful criminal defense attorney to have. Some of those – such as being able to listen well, being empathetic, or being detail oriented – are often associated with women, for one reason or another. But plenty of men have those traits as well.

Have you had women role models and how has this impacted your career?

I have had women role models throughout my legal career, and they have been very important to me. When I graduated from law school, I clerked for the Hon. Kimba M. Wood of the Southern District of New York, and the experience of working for her still inspires me. She is both a brilliant and forceful jurist and a wonderfully kind and down-to-earth person. I try hard to emulate her.

What kind of struggles do you think that women in the field have to deal with that our male colleagues do not?

I was once told in a job interview that I couldn’t do the job because I had a child. I responded that I guessed he, the interviewer, didn’t have any children. He said that he had three children, but it was very different because he had a wife. In fact, he said, he had two wives, an ex-wife and a current wife!

I think having to overcome obstacles in life can make you a better advocate.  You can’t let one individual’s foolish opinion stop you from succeeding.  I focus on getting results for my clients and leave the rest behind.

What do you think it takes for a woman to succeed in this field? 

Brains, fearlessness, attention to detail, perseverance, and the ability to speak in a way that moves people and convinces them of the righteousness of your position. There are, of course, also some negotiating skills involved that can require a more flexible touch. Knowing when to react and adjust, and when to stay the course, is always helpful.

What is your proudest moment in representing a client?

There is nothing like getting an acquittal in a criminal trial. But sometimes the proudest moments are the quiet victories. Convincing a prosecutor or regulator not to bring charges and delivering that news to a client is a real thrill that you can’t advertise, but it is incredibly satisfying all the same.

If you could go back and give yourself one piece of career advice what would it be?

Find the time to keep in touch with your friends. I mean that both personally, because it’s healthy, and professionally, because often your friends are doing interesting work – legal or non-legal – that just might intersect with your own.

What do you consider your most valuable weapon in your defense arsenal?

Knowing the facts and the law better than my opponent has been key to my success. It gives me a lot of confidence when I go into a meeting or an argument to know that I am completely prepared. I find that having that foundation allows me to react quickly when I need to find a new way to get my point across or address an issue where, perhaps, the other side seems to be gaining traction.

Of the women criminal defense attorneys that you know and admire what made them stand out to you? What about them inspired you?

It is not easy, what we defense lawyers do, and often it does not make us popular. What inspires me is when I see a lawyer – male or female – really make a difference in an unpopular case, whether it is by forceful advocacy or by simply making the right judgment call.

Best advice you ever received?

When you are weighing a tough decision, make all the arguments on either side and then pick the right side, stick to it, and argue the hell out of it. Of course, if the facts change, one needs to recognize the need to adjust one’s tactics accordingly.

Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: Ellen Brotman Representing Client Indicted in TARP fraud

Ellen Brotman of Montgomery McCracken in Philadelphia is representing the ex-board chairman of Nova Bank, a failed Philadelphia bank, who was just charged with TARP fraud. The chairman, Barry Bekkedam, a former Villanova University basketball player, was charged along with the ex-CEO Brian Hartline with multiple counts of fraud. A Justice Department press release describes the Indictment.

Ellen Brotman set the tone in vigorous defense of her client when she spoke to the Philadelphia Business journal. She said both men “are innocent and they will be exonerated and vindicated at trial. This indictment should not have been brought and I am shocked that the government chose to go forward with these charges, in reckless disregard of the reputations they are damaging in the process. This prosecution is a misguided attempt to salvage an investigation that should never have gone this far.”

Knowing Ellen Brotman like I do, the Government will certainly have a tough fight on their hands and her client couldn’t be in stronger or more capable hands. Stay tuned!

Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: Judy Clarke and Miriam Conrad Represent Defendant in Boston Marathon Bombing Trial

The trial has officially begun in the Boston Marathon Bombing case and two of the lead lawyers on the defense team are none other than the renowned death penalty lawyer Judy Clarke and Miriam Conrad, the chief federal defender for Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

The trial is still in the jury selection phase, which will undoubtedly serve to be challenging since the Judge denied the motion to change venue out of Boston. Not a big surprise to those of us that practice regularly in federal court… but without question an unfortunate ruling for the defense. The case is anecdotally known as the Boston bombing case, how can jurors in Boston be unbiased to the correlation between the crime and the place they call home?

In fact, reportedly dozens of jurors have been excused for cause already but the pool of prospective jurors is well over a thousand people. The media has reported that there was an effort to strike a plea deal, which would have resulted in a life sentence for Tsarnaev, but ultimately the Government would not agree to waive death. The trial is expected to last for months.

We had previously posted about the case when Judy Clarke was initially brought on to be part of the team, but now the tough part begins. It is clear from the experience sitting at defense counsel table that Tsarneav has able attorneys and some of the best women criminal defense lawyers in the country by his side. I certainly will continue to follow this trial.

Women Criminal Defense Lawyers: Evan Jenness Speaks Out

One of our colleagues, Evan Jenness, from Los Angeles, California, spoke up in a letter to the editor of the New York Times, candidly calling out the fact that the justices of the Supreme Court are engaging in biased conduct toward women and minority lawyers. She suggests that the Court should consider accepting blind briefing as a means to eradicate their practice of accepting petitions from a select few attorneys that are overwhelmingly white and male.

Her letter, along with others sent, were in reaction to an Editorial Board article entitled The Best Lawyers Money Can Buy, which discussed a recent Reuters report that exposed the reality that a small elite group of lawyers have the highest probability of arguing a case before the Supreme Court. The justices accept approximately 75 out of 10,000 petitions per year. And a shocking number of the petitions have a small elite group of lawyers names attached to them again and again. Reuters identified 66 lawyers who represented less than one half of 1 percent of all lawyers who petitioned the court during the report period from 2004 to 2012, but these 66 lawyers were involved in 43 percent of the cases the justices heard. And not shockingly the New York Times reported, “That elite cohort is as homogeneous as it is powerful: 63 of the 66 lawyers were white, 58 were men, and 51 worked for firms with primarily corporate clients.”

There is nothing new about these kind of statistics, but when you consider the significance and importance that access to the Supreme Court has for a practicing lawyer, the fact that women don’t have equal access is disturbing to say the least. We should all be speaking up and against this kind of inherent bias against women in law. Thanks to Evan Jenness for speaking out so candidly about this important issue.

Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: Happy Women’s Year

Happy New Year! In spite of the holidays being hectic there always seems to be time for reflection as the New Year approaches. And I have been doing my own reflecting about this blog. I had meant to acknowledge the two year milestone of the blog in October, but I forgot. We have never missed a weekly post in two years which was a personal goal.

In 2014 we highlighted some amazing women which I want to do more of in 2015. I had women share with me that they were shocked at the positive reaction they got from doing an interview, I had women tell me that potential clients read about them on the blog when researching them, and I had women tell me their firm marketing directors absolutely loved the interview.

All in all it has served as a wonderful tool for us to get to know each other and for women criminal lawyers to get more exposure and recognition. I couldn’t be more thrilled about that.

We started a series called What makes a Great Defender which I would love to see grow. I would love to see more women contribute and participate in the blog in the New Year. And I would love to find more women criminal lawyers highlighted in the media and women involved in the representation of big cases. So in the spirit of reflection I created a list of my top ten successes for women criminal lawyers for 2014:

  1. WCDA blog interviews 5 women (more next year) and highlights 10 women (more next year)…just killing it on specific cases
  2. March 2014 ABA panel “Women in White Collar in Today’s Global Community”
  3. March 2014 Women White Collar Subcommittee holds cocktail at ABA White Collar Conference
  4. March 2014 Women White Collar Defense Association holds “Spa day” event at the Biltmore with over 175 women white collar practitioners participating from all over the country
  5. March 2014 Jan Little is one of the recipients of NACDL White Collar Criminal Defense Award
  6. March 2014 NACDL Women’s Initiative holds panel “Career path for Women in Criminal Defense: Challenges and Triumphs”
  7. May 2014 NACDL Women’s Initiative holds panel on “Mentoring and Your Career”
  8. August 2014 Cynthia Orr installed as co-chair of ABA Criminal Justice Section and receives NACDL Robert Heeny award
  9. November 2014 Women’s Initiative networking luncheon organized at NACDL White Collar Conference
  10. Cris Arguedas hired to represent FedEx in controversial drug trafficking Indictment.

Here is to a New Year of prosperity and full of continued successes! Happy Women’s Year!

Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: Give the Gift of Knowledge and Experience

During this season of giving I have been contemplating what gift this blog can give. And the answer that I keep coming back to is the gift of sharing knowledge and experience. I have used this phrase before “reach out, up, and back to connect and draw upon the knowledge base of fellow women.” Gifts of knowledge and experience last forever and truly are what matter most. And these gifts are not reserved for young lawyers. This past year, after twenty years of practicing, I was the recipient of such a gift. A woman that I met through NACDL’s Women’s Initiative, who has been practicing twenty-six years, generously shared her experience and knowledge with me. Of course these gifts aren’t reserved for women, either. Just last week I sat with a new male associate in our office and talked to him about court hearings. But it is important to make a specific effort to reach out, up, and back to women in the field. This is still a very male dominated field and women still struggle with finding their voice and direction. We need to help them and we need to help each other.

In that spirit I have been thinking a lot about what I have developed in my arsenal of defense tools that I found most useful in twenty years of practice. One of those tools is Judgment. When we start practicing we are obsessed and consumed with the idea that our opponent or the Judge will know the rules or case law better than we do. We falsely believe that mastering the law alone will protect us in a fight. The truth is, in my opinion, that these are a criminal defense lawyer’s weakest tools. That is not to say that knowing the law is not important. It is. But not at the expense of one of your most valuable tools… your judgment. You have to learn to develop your guiding voice, your gut, and your instinct. They all come together to form Judgment. This is when you decide “should I reach out to the detective or prosecutor?” in the midst of an investigation. This is when you decide “do I sit down and stop talking because I’m winning?” This is when you decide what kind of resolution you can push for and which is going to cause push back and make matters worse. This is when you decide which argument passes the “laugh test” and which doesn’t.

The list of how judgment affects every aspect of criminal defense is endless. I could go on for days. The point here is that in defending a client sometimes the best defense entails putting down your book and Westlaw and listening to your own guiding voice. There is tremendous amount of instinct to this job and the earlier you start trusting that instinct or finding a mentor that can help you develop it when you are insecure about it (which is normal), the faster you will grow as a criminal defense lawyer. There are certainly more tools at my disposal which I am pledging to share more about on the blog and in my office to whoever wants guidance. That is my pledge in the New Year, to share my own knowledge and experience with generous heart and open spirit. It is my way of paying it forward. Happy Holidays!

Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: Against the Odds, Cynthia Orr Receives Bail for Client

Events this week have underscored the passion and dedication that women attorneys bring to this field, often yielding stunning results for our clients. On Wednesday I wrote about the remarkable appeal victory earned by Lori Voepel.

In another amazing turnaround this week, attorney Cynthia Orr was finally able to obtain bail for Hannah Overton – almost two months after her conviction was overturned. Multiple news organizations picked up the story, including ABC News, Huffington Post and Newser. These kinds of life-altering results driven by women criminal lawyers are worthy of a second post this week.

The judge awarded Hannah Overton a $50,000 bond and rejected the prosecution’s request for a $250,000 bond. Overton was convicted of murder in 2006 for the salt-poisoning death of her foster son. In October of this year an appeals court agreed that she received ineffective representation during her murder trial and the conviction was reversed. Overton has been asserting her innocence since being charged. Her husband was also charged but accepted a plea after her conviction and was sentenced to probation, which has since terminated. The Overton’s have five children that have only seen their mother through glass in the jail once a month during her last seven years of incarceration. Cynthia Orr has been a ferocious advocate for Overton throughout and hasn’t for a moment stopped fighting to gain her freedom. That effort was rewarded this week as her client walked out of jail to spend Christmas with her kids and hug them for the first time in over seven years. This is the kind of thing that gives you goose bumps.

So many people get lost in our criminal system. A few lucky ones meet advocates like Cynthia Orr and Lori Voepel who breathe life into their quest for justice. This kind of perseverance is simply inspiring. For those of you that don’t know Cynthia Orr, she is currently a co-chair of the Criminal Justice Section for the ABA and a past president of NACDL. She exemplifies the term “champion of justice” and obviously doesn’t sleep. Congrats to Cynthia on a stunning victory. The fight is not over… but Hannah Overton couldn’t be in more capable caring hands.

Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: Lori Voepel Wins Appeal for Woman Who Spent 22 Years on Death Row on Egregious Prosecutorial Misconduct

Attorney Lori Voepel, from Phoenix, Arizona, won a stunning appeal last week for Debra Jean Milke, who spent 22 years on death row for the alleged murder of her 4 year old son. The Arizona Court of Appeals ordered the dismissal of murder charges against Milke and agreed with Voepel that to conduct a retrial would amount to double jeopardy. The Court was extremely critical of the prosecutors’ failure to turn over evidence during Milke’s trial about Detective Saldate who had a long history of misconduct and lying. The case was largely built on the detective’s testimony that Milke had confessed to him in spite of the fact that it was not preserved by recording or in writing. The Court called the prosecutors’ actions “a severe stain on the Arizona justice system” and stated that the failure to turn over the evidence “calls into question the integrity of the system and was highly prejudicial to Milke.”

The Huffington Post detailed the appellate twists and turns starting from the federal habeas to 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that resulted in the conviction being reversed in March of 2013. Listen here to Voepel discussing the 9th Circuit’s ruling last year.

The 9th Circuit cited numerous instances of now-retired Detective Saldate committing misconduct in previous cases, lying under oath, and violating suspects’ rights. The federal appeals court went as far as asking the Justice Department to investigate whether he had committed civil rights violations. Thereafter when the prosecutors were preparing for a retrial the detective refused to testify and asserted his Fifth Amendment right, which the trial judge accepted. When the State appealed, the court’s ruling was reversed after both State and Federal authorities said they would not prosecute him. Finally, the last appeal resulted in the Arizona Court of Appeals agreeing that a retrial would amount to double jeopardy. Some news reports have indicated that the County Attorney plans to appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court. In September of last year Milke posted bond and was released from prison after spending close to 25 years in prison to await her retrial and the appeals the followed.

This case is yet another example of the insidious nature of Brady violations. Here the prosecutors had evidence that went directly to the credibility of the main witness against the defendant and rather than follow the law, they chose to break the law. Thankfully in this instance Lori Voepel was able to demonstrate that Brady evidence existed but wasn’t turned over. This kind of case is a prime example as to why we, as trial attorneys, need to remain vigilant about Brady and continue to shine a bright light on the damaging effects of Brady violations. Congrats to Lori Voepel and her tireless fight for justice for her client. Bravo!

Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: What’s Happening that Matters to Women Lawyers

Today I’d like to call several interesting articles and developments regarding women in law to your attention.

I loved reading this article about The 39 Most Iconic Feminist Moments of 2014. Nothing short of inspiring that more and more women are speaking out in support of feminism. I simply can’t believe we let our culture decide that “feminist” was a bad label.

On a more disturbing note, a female criminal lawyer in New York was recently denied a trial delay based on a request to postpone the trial due to her high-risk pregnancy. The hearing relating to the request got a lot of media attention, and Deborah Misir, the pregnant lawyer, had to appear by phone due to her condition. The New York Times called the hearing tumultuous at points. The Judge ultimately denied the request because there was a second lawyer who could handle the case and finding that the right to counsel of choice was outweighed by the co defendants right to be tried quickly and the need to try the case once for judicial efficiency. Both Misir and her husband were visibly upset and argued that there was obvious sexism occurring in the process.

The ABA Commission on Women in the Profession is a great resource for women lawyers. Check out the ABA Current Glance at Women in the Law from July 2014 and become more educated on how women fare statistically in the field. Also read The Goal III Report published February 2014, which is an Annual report on Women’s Advancement into Leadership Positions in the American Bar Association. Finally be sure to look at the Call for Nomination for the 2015 Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Awards that are due by December 15th. This is how the awards are described: “The award was established in 1991 to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of women lawyers. Each year, this award honors five outstanding women lawyers who have achieved professional excellence within their area of specialty and have actively paved the way to success for other women lawyers. These women demonstrate excellence in a variety of professional settings and personify excellence on either the national, regional, or local level.”

If I am missing something we should know about please let know, and as always I am looking for information and assistance with the following:

  • Specific Cases that women criminal lawyers are handling
  • A mentor or outstanding lawyer that you think should be interviewed
  • How you would define a “Great Defender” as a woman criminal lawyer

I also welcome your thoughts on how we could enhance this blog. I would love to hear from you!

Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: Marie Henein Representing CBC Radio Celebrity Charged with Sexual Assault

Celebrity CBC Radio Host Jian Ghomeshi has been charged in Toronto, Canada, with four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking. Ghomeshi was the host of a popular CBC Radio show called Q. Last month, as multiple allegations began to surface, his show was canceled. The allegations have quickly ballooned into a media circus with approximately fifteen women coming forward who have made similar accusations. To make matters even more challenging for the criminal lawyer representing Mr. Ghomeshi, he wrote a 1500 word statement on Facebook after the CBC canceled his radio show saying they were making a moral judgement of him for enjoying consensual “rough sex” and BDSM. He also filed a lawsuit against CBC before dropping it earlier this week.

Since then he has wised up and hired famed Toronto lawyer Marie Henein, who colleagues have described as a fearless and brilliant lawyer and “as fine a lawyer as this country has.” Some news articles have described Henein and her firm as looking like they are straight out of an HBO TV Drama. But Henein is very much the real deal. She is one of the most respected criminal lawyers in Canada and has represented a number of high profile defendants.

The CBC article goes on to describe a lecture she gave in 2010 at the University of Windsor law school where she spoke about the anatomy of the defense narrative. She said that “the importance of developing your narrative starts from the moment the client walks into your office.” “It drives everything that you do, your analysis of the law, your comments to the media, your approach with experts and witnesses. It defines your cross-examination and your examination,” she said. “Each question you ask, you have to advance your theory. Each witness and each exhibit, each conversation you have with the Crown, is about advancing the fabric of the defense narrative.”

There is no doubt that Marie Henein is a true advocate. She couldn’t be more right. A true defender understands that there is no time off for an advocate. You are always advocating your client’s story and narrative. And she set the tone early in Ghomeshi’s case by making it clear to the media they would not be trying their case before the media but only in Court. The only chance she has to overcome the media circus surrounding her client’s case is to distance him from it as quickly as possible.

The media attention surrounding the story has also ignited a conversation in Canada, as have other similar stories in the United States, about violence toward women. And as is typical in this business, people often ask how a woman criminal lawyer can represent someone who is charged with violating other women. The answer is simple, we are advocates first. There is only one focus when you are an advocate… your client.

It is so exciting to see Henein and other women criminal defense lawyers in Canada taking center stage in the criminal defense field. I will certainly be watching and will keep you posted.