The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and Stetson University College of Law presented Cristina C. Arguedas with the 2017 White Collar Criminal Defense Award this last weekend. It was an honor to be there and witness both the presentation and her acceptance of the award. Cris Arguedas was awarded this prestigious honor for her work in the FedEx case. The successful defense of FedEx can only be described as a hero’s tale. The irony that this defense was spearheaded by a woman and a small team isn’t lost on me.
It’s amazing when you really consider the consequences of this win. Not only is this one of the few times that a corporation has dared to take on the United States Government in a criminal prosecution. But to consider that the herculean task of defending a corporate case of this size and magnitude was accomplished without an army of lawyers – which is typical in a corporate white collar case – not only speaks volumes about Arguedas but of the importance of mounting a defense at all. More often than not the army of lawyers aren’t challenging the Government or forcing the Government to trial, but rather are working their way to a negotiated settlement. It really doesn’t matter how many lawyers are representing a corporation if the evidence remains untested. As I have said before, it is easy to champion a winning theory in a conference room; it is a far different thing to champion it in the courtroom. And that is exactly what Arguedas did in the FedEx case. The case completely imploded within days after the trial started.
I am personally proud that this historical victory was led by one of our sisters in the field. I have previously shared how much I admire Arguedas – and I am not alone. She is without question one of the legends in the field. Barry Pollack, President of NACDL, presented the award and gave a wonderful speech in which he imagined that legends in the field would have their own trading cards that we could collect, with trial victories and stats on the back. Since Arguedas was inducted into the Trial Lawyers Hall of Fame in 2010 with Penny Cooper – another legend – his analogy was more than appropriate.
As would be expected from Cris Arguedas, she accepted the award with grace and humility. She didn’t take the opportunity to bask in the limelight but rather spoke passionately about the dangerous landscape of corporate criminal prosecutions, which has amounted to nothing short of Government bullying of Corporate America. She shared with us the amount of pressure that she shouldered to fight against the baseless charges that she confronted in the FedEx case and the amount of painstaking preparation that went into the defense. Indeed, the trial judge took the unusual step of concluding, on the record at the time of dismissing the charges, that FedEx was “factually innocent.”
Arguedas’ acceptance speech was emblematic of everything that makes her great. She is a true defender in every fiber of her being. She is a fierce advocate. The takeaway is that it does not take an army to fight an injustice lobbed by the Government. Rather, it takes the spirit of a lion and the courage to strike back in defense. It’s that simple.