Judicial Notice (04.08.23): Flying Justice Thomas
A Biglaw partner turned Trump defender, a Paul Hastings slide deck gone viral, and other legal news from the week that was.
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To everyone who celebrated Passover, I hope you had a happy one. My husband Zach and I attended two Seders, one with family and one with family friends, and our son Harlan read the Four Questions beautifully at both.
One month after the raucous protest of Judge Kyle Duncan at Stanford Law School, articles continue to be written about the controversy (including one in today’s New York Times by Vimal Patel, although it doesn’t really say much). I was quoted in at least three such articles this week, in the ABA Journal (Stuart Brotman), Daily Caller (Gretchen Clayson), and Stanford Daily (Greta Reich).
It was a very busy week in legal news, so let’s dive in.
Lawyer of the Week: Todd Blanche.
Would you walk away from a multimillion-dollar Biglaw partnership to defend Donald Trump? I wouldn’t. But I don’t think Todd Blanche is crazy for making that choice.
On Monday, we learned that Blanche resigned from Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, where he had been a partner since 2017, to join Susan Necheles and Joseph Tacopina in defending Trump in People of the State of New York v. Donald J. Trump. In an email obtained by Politico, which first broke the news of Blanche’s hiring, he explained that “I have been asked to represent Trump in the recently charged DA case, and after much thought/consideration, I have decided it is the best thing for me to do and an opportunity I should not pass up.”
Again, it’s not a decision that I would have made, but I can understand why Blanche made it. First, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s prosecution of Trump is the first-ever criminal case filed against a former president, so defending Trump is a chance to participate in the making of history. Second, the case has its infirmities, which means that (a) even someone who doesn’t love Trump can justify defending him from an arguably overreaching prosecution, and (b) there’s a higher chance of victory—and the fame that would come from winning a historic, headline-making case. Third, I wouldn’t be surprised if Blanche got paid upfront—and hope for his sake that he did, given Trump’s history of trying to get out of paying legal bills. (Chris Kise reportedly received an upfront payment of $3 million when he similarly resigned from Foley & Lardner to represent Trump in the Mar-a-Lago documents case).
Some of Trump’s lawyers over the years have been less than impressive, but like his new colleagues Susan Necheles and Joe Tacopina, Blanche is a seasoned, well-regarded former prosecutor with experience handling high-profile cases. As you can see from his LinkedIn profile, he completed two federal clerkships, for Judges Denny Chin and Joseph Bianco (when they were on the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York, respectively); worked as an associate at Davis Polk; served as an assistant U.S. Attorney in the S.D.N.Y. for more than eight years, where he led the violent crimes unit and the White Plains Division; and practiced post-S.D.N.Y. at WilmerHale followed by Cadwalader.
As for prominent past representations, Blanche won dismissal of the indictment that the Manhattan DA’s office brought against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, based on double-jeopardy grounds. He also represented Igor Fruman, the former Rudy Giuliani associate who pleaded guilty in a campaign-finance case and received a sentence of just a year and a day (and ultimately served only two months before being released to home confinement).
Runner-up for Lawyer of the Week: Alex Spiro. In the retrial of a racial discrimination case against Tesla with terrible facts for the electric vehicle maker, Spiro managed to get the damages award slashed by 98 percent. This still left Tesla owing the plaintiff, Owen Diaz, some $3.2 million—but that was orders of magnitude better than the $137 million award that Diaz won two years ago. Saving Tesla more than $130 million is an excellent result, and I might have named Spiro my Lawyer of the Week if he hadn’t already won this honor twice in the past six months. (I try to spread the wealth and avoid repeat winners in this category.)
In memoriam: Benjamin Ferencz, the last surviving prosecutor of the Nuremberg trials, passed away at 103. May he rest in peace.
Judge of the Week: Justice Clarence Thomas.
Pop quiz, hotshot: who or what is Harlan Crow?
(a) A James Bond villain.
(b) A William Faulkner character.
(c) A boutique financial-advisory firm.
(d) A real estate magnate and Republican megadonor.
Answer: (d). And although some publications call him a billionaire, he’s not—at least not according to Forbes and Bloomberg, the authoritative sources on billionaire status.
Why isn’t Crow a billionaire? Maybe because he’s been dropping so many ducats over the years on Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife Ginni….