Letitia 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.