Litigator Kristina Infante’s early start in law placed her in some important rooms for important moments, albeit as a “lowly intern.”
By Raychel Lean | June 07, 2021
When Podhurst Orseck’s Kristina Infante was an undergrad in college, she was already a fully fledged ”Supreme Court junkie,” who jumped at the chance to work on Northwestern University’s “Oyez Project,” aimed at making archived audio from U.S. Supreme Court arguments accessible to everyone.
That meant spending four years listening to hundreds of oral arguments, syncing transcripts with audio and preparing them for online publication. And it led to an internship at the Supreme Court, where she rushed from one justice’s chambers to the next, delivering documents and handling administrative tasks for the marshal’s office — all before stepping foot in law school.
“Being the nerd I was, just being around the justices in the chambers and stuff like that, to me it was like, when Chief Justice Roberts walked down the hallway, he might as well have been Brad Pitt. I was totally starstruck,” Infante said. “Just being in that place and being around folks who have such a reverence for the law and a reverence for the institution … it was really special.”
Infante’s early start in law placed her in some important rooms for important moments, albeit as a “lowly intern.”
A year later, Infante interned at the Office of the Solicitor General, which regularly argues on behalf of the U.S. government before the Supreme Court. Elena Kagan was solicitor general at the time — until that summer, when she was nominated to the high court. Infante recalled being in the room when Kagan found out she’d secured enough Senate votes to take the bench.
“It was like a Forrest Gump moment,” Infante said. “I don’t know how I found myself standing in that room.”
That was a harbinger of what was to come, as Infante has been at the forefront of major nation litigation ever since.
Infante joined Miami’s Podhurst Orseck in 2018, after more than two years with Boies Schiller Flexner and a year of “writing boot camp” as Judge Adalberto Jordan’s clerk at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, who taught her how to write about law in a way everyone can understand.
“I think he’s one of the judges in the country where you read his opinions and you know that’s a Judge Jordan opinion because he has a very clear voice. The analysis is very tight and well-reasoned,” Infante said. “But at the same time, the thing I love most about it is that his writing is really intelligible to the average person. He wants to make his opinions readable to everybody, to sort of democratize legal writing and legal opinions, because they affect average people.”
‘Clear and imminent danger’
As an associate at Podhurst, Infante is lead counsel in the first lawsuit against the government over the FBI’s alleged negligence before the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
Infante represents the families of those who lost children in the massacre, which killed 17 people and injured 17 others. She described the lawsuit as “a classic negligence case,” noting that the FBI admitted that it had received specific information from two tipsters about shooter Nikolas Cruz, including a claim that the troubled teenager had expressed a desire to kill people.
“He [Cruz] had threatened to become a school shooter. He had expressed an affinity with ISIS. He had been amassing weapons,” Infante said. ”He posed a very clear and imminent danger to the students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and the FBI knew about that before the shooting.”
The lawsuit alleges the FBI’s West Virginia hotline bungled its handling of the tips by failing to forward them to the Miami field office, which Infante argues would have triggered an investigation and possibly prevented the ensuing tragedy.
Infante said the litigation is just one of the many things her clients are doing in an effort to prevent gun violence. That includes Fred Guttenberg, who’s become a prominent activist in the wake of his 14-year-old daughter Jaime’s death.
“Fred talks about the way he was literally picking out a casket for his daughter when he received a call from an FBI agent letting him know that the FBI messed this up, that they had information and if they would have just done their job properly, this wouldn’t have happened,” Infante said.
Now in the discovery phase, the case is set for trial in January 2022 after surviving a motion to dismiss in 2020.
‘Swim or swim’
The Parkland suit exemplifies the sort of complex, high-stakes litigation Podhurst Orseck is known for, despite its small size. It’s a “lean and mean” boutique, according to Infante, who said that means associates are immediately thrown in at the deep end.
“The expectation is that you’ve got to do it. You can do it. You’re expected to be able to,” Infante said. “When I joined the firm, Ricardo Martinez-Cid, who’s a partner, told me, ‘It’s a swim or swim environment,’ and I found that that is the case. So I’ve been swimming.”
As a first-year associate, Infante worked with now-U.S. District Judge Roy Altman to negotiate a $57 million settlement with Volkswagen Group of America Inc. and its German parent company Volkswagen AG. That resolved a class action lawsuit on behalf of more then 300,000 drivers who alleged their four-door sedans built between 2009 to 2017 had defective suspension systems.
Infante also helped secure an $844 million settlement for the families of more than half of the 71 people killed in a LaMia Bolivia charter flight, which crashed while carrying Brazilian soccer club Chapecoense to the finals of the Copa Sudamericana in 2016.
That lawsuit alleged that the plane suffered complete electrical failure because the pilots had skipped a planned refueling stop and didn’t alert air traffic controllers until it was too late.
Litigation is still pending against insurers and straddles numerous issues of foreign law as it involves courts in Bolivia, Brazil and the U.K.
“The plane literally ran out of fuel before reaching its destination, which should never happen,” Infante said. “So, at its heart, it’s a simple negligence case, but because of various issues of law and jurisdictional issues and choice-of-law questions, it is a case that is very complicated, very interesting and is sort of pushing us in directions that are novel.”
Before litigation, Infante mastered another highly technical field — ballet — having spent her summers dancing at New York City’s American Ballet Theatre. And though she changed her mind about becoming a professional ballerina, she still gets the same adrenaline rush when preparing for trial.
“The feeling right before that, the feeling of butterflies, just reminds me very much of standing in the wings before a performance. When I used to get out on the stage and dance, those butterflies would melt away as soon as the music started,” Infante said. “When the first words come out of my mouth and I’m looking at the jury, that’s looking out at your audience and performing.”
At Podhurst, Infante said she operates under the philosophy that ”sunlight is the best disinfectant,” reasoning, “Let’s bring to the surface the information about what happened here, what led to this tragedy, what could have been done differently, what wasn’t done correctly and let’s have some assurance that, in the future, something like this won’t happen again.”
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