Judicial Notice (02.11.23): Ouch!
Tesla gets a new general counsel, Gibson Dunn gets benchslapped, and other legal news from the week that was.
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I had a good week, thank you very much. After appearing on a webinar about free speech and civil discourse in U.S. law schools (covered by Avalon Zoppo for the National Law Journal), I headed down to Durham, where I spoke at Duke Law about the current state of the legal profession (alongside Jennifer Dickey, deputy chief counsel at the U.S. Chamber Litigation Center). It’s always a pleasure to speak at law schools—especially in locales where temperatures hit the 60s in February.
Continuing my writing for outlets other than this fine newsletter, my husband Zach and I just co-authored a piece for the New York Times, Trump’s Supreme Court Picks Are Not Quite What You Think. To paraphrase Jeb Bush, “please click”—whether or not you read—to help us make the NYT most-read list.
In our essay, we evaluate the track records so far of Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett, pushing back on the narrative of a monolithic conservative bloc on SCOTUS. Instead, we argue, “[t]here are interesting and important differences of opinion among the conservative justices”—and “understanding these nuances is critical, especially for lawyers and legal organizations on the left who are ‘playing defense’ before a conservative court that’s far from done with its transformation of American law.”
Now, on to the legal news.
Lawyer of the Week: Benjamin Crump.
Congratulations to Ben Crump, the prominent civil-rights and plaintiffs’ lawyer currently representing the family of Tyre Nichols, who died after being beaten by Memphis police during a January 7 traffic stop. Crump is now the first and only living Black lawyer to have a law school named after him:
his alma mater, the St. Thomas University School of Law in Miami Gardens, Florida, which on Wednesday rebranded itself as the Benjamin L. Crump College of Law. Of the 199 law schools accredited by the American Bar Association, only one other is named after a Black lawyer, the Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law. [UPDATE (2/14/2023, 1:29 a.m.): Corrected to reflect that Crump himself is a 1995 graduate of the Florida State University College of Law.]
Crump made a $1 million gift to the school—which, while sizable, probably wouldn’t be enough to earn naming rights by itself. But as reported by TMZ—which doesn’t often report on law school renaming—a slew of celebrities, including actor Will Smith and funk-music legend George Clinton, raised $10 million to support the renaming of St. Thomas Law. Appearing at the renaming ceremony, Smith slapped Crump—affectionately, on the chest—and offered hearty congratulations.
Other lawyers (and a law professor) in the news:
Representative George Santos (R-N.Y.), under investigation for a litany of alleged lies, took lawyer Michael Weinstock, a Democrat who once ran for the House district that Mr. Santos now represents, as his guest to the State of the Union. Weinstock told the New York Times that his acceptance of the invitation led to his dismissal from his law firm (which the Times did not name).
Texas attorney general Ken Paxton agreed to pay $3.3 million in a settlement with four former aides, conservative lawyers who alleged that Paxton retaliated against them after they raised concerns about possible corruption (involving a wealthy real estate investor who was Paxton’s friend and donor).
Congratulations to Professor Brian Fitzpatrick of Vanderbilt Law, whose methodology for calculating attorneys’ fees, now known as the “Fitzpatrick Matrix,” was adopted by Chief Judge Beryl Howell (D.D.C.) in determining the fees owed to a prevailing plaintiff in a lawsuit against the District of Columbia.
In memoriam: Harry Whittington, the wealthy and well-connected Texas lawyer who was shot by then-vice president Dick Cheney in a hunting accident in 2006, passed away at 95. May he rest in peace.
Judge of the Week: Judge Vince Chhabria.
This benchslap was dispensed on the West Coast, but I heard it all the way here in New Jersey. And on the receiving end was one of Biglaw’s biggest and best law firms.