Arguedas Honored by Women Defenders

Cris Arguedas is described by colleagues as a naturally skilled attorney born to play the role of advocate for criminal defendants. After all, notes Arguedas’ former law partner Penny Cooper, “The first five letters of her name spell ‘Argue.’”

But few may know that Arguedas envisioned a different career path when in seventh grade a teacher assigned her to write a report about her future.

“I thought, if I was a boy I would pick lawyer. But I’m not, so I’m going to pick social worker,” Arguedas told a crowd of more than 150 attorneys on May 4.

Arguedas, lead partner in Berkeley’s Arguedas, Cassman & Headley, rarely speaks in public about her clients. She says she never talks about herself, either. So those who attended the Women Defenders’ spring event, where Arguedas was recognized “for more than 25 years of remarkable advocacy,” were treated to an unusually personal glimpse at Arguedas’ life and law practice.

Hosted at a boat house overlooking Lake Merritt in Oakland, the Arguedas celebration drew together a long lineage of criminal defense mavens, from Barbara Babcock, the Stanford law professor and former Washington, D.C., public defender (whom Arguedas identified as an inspiration), to the Boalt Hall law students from Arguedas’ spring semester criminal practice course.

“In my judgment, this is an honor long, long overdue,” said Cooper, a former public defender in Alameda County who teamed up with Arguedas in 1982.

Noting how far women defenders have come during her career, Cooper said in the 1960s she and other women were discouraged from taking the criminal practice course at Boalt. Now Arguedas is running the show.

“Just knowing what she has accomplished serves as a shining example of what is now within your reach,” Cooper told the junior lawyers in the room.

“She’s an icon, a leading figure, particularly as a woman. It’s an honor to have someone of that stature in the profession,” said Leslie Caldwell, a partner in the New York office of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, who attended Arguedas’ event.

San Francisco attorney Doron Weinberg called Arguedas “a brilliant lawyer” and “skillful tactician.”

“She’s really just good at bringing people together and convincing other people what she thinks is right is what they should think is right,” he said.

Arguedas built her reputation by swimming hard against the current — by refusing a judge’s demand that women wear skirts in the courtroom and by representing unpopular clients, including “Hells Angels, coke dealers and meth cooks.”

Looking ahead, Arguedas expressed a desire to shake up the establishment more.

“I think we need to kick it up a notch,” she said. “Go back to the ways of militant feminism, and make people a little uncomfortable [again].

“Anyone who wants to do that, you give me a call,” she said.

— Matthew Hirsch

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One Response to “Arguedas Honored by Women Defenders”

  1. rayburn Says:

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