Judicial Notice (11.04.23): Israel, Hamas, And The Limits Of Free Speech
Biglaw condemns law-school antisemitism, a judge criticizes a pro-Hamas professor, Stroock votes to dissolve, and other legal news from the week that was.
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Having kids is great and all, but it also means… having colds. Harlan got some bug a few weeks ago, and it has now made its way through our entire household, finally getting to me. And since I already felt miserable, I thought to myself: why not get my flu and Covid-19 shots out of the way? So now I’m not only congested and tired, but I have two really sore arms.
I’m still able to type (and think, although that’s more debatable). So, on to the news.
Lawyers of the Week: Nicolas Roos, Danielle Sassoon, and the SBF prosecution team.
One of the biggest but least surprising legal news stories of the week was the conviction of Sam Bankman-Fried (“SBF”), the disgraced founder of the FTX cryptocurrency exchange, on seven counts of fraud, conspiracy, and money laundering. He’s likely to be sentenced to decades in prison, according to former federal prosecutor and crypto expert Kathryn Haun (who calculates his likely Sentencing Guidelines range at 27 to 34 years—yikes).
The trial lasted five weeks, but the jury deliberated for under five hours—a testament to the talented team of S.D.N.Y. prosecutors led by Nicolas Roos and Danielle Sassoon. Roos graduated from Stanford Law, where SBF’s parents were two of the most popular members of the faculty, and Sassoon graduated from Yale Law, then clerked for the late Justice Antonin Scalia (to whom she wrote a wonderful SCOTUSblog tribute, noting that he taught her how to shoot and “thickened my skin, which was the best preparation for a career in a male-dominated field”).
Roos and Sassoon played the most prominent courtroom roles, delivering a stirring summation and taking down SBF in cross-examination, respectively. But they were only the most visible members of a team that featured assistant U.S. attorneys drawn from three different S.D.N.Y. units and overseen by U.S. Attorney Damian Williams, Sassoon’s fellow YLS grad and SCOTUS clerk (for Justice John Paul Stevens). Congratulations to Roos, Sassoon, and Williams, for their swift and decisive win.
Runner-up for Lawyer of the Week: Joseph Shenker, senior chair of Sullivan & Cromwell. He drafted a widely discussed letter to more than 100 law school deans urging them to take an “unequivocal stance” against “antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism or any other form of violence, hatred or bigotry,” in light of recent reports “of antisemitic harassment, vandalism, and assaults on college campuses, including rallies calling for the death of Jews and the elimination of the State of Israel.” Shenker then spearheaded the effort to secure signatories for the letter, which as of this writing has been signed by more than 100 major law firms.
Writing at Above the Law, my former colleague Joe Patrice wondered why firms are speaking out only now, given that antisemitic hate crimes were rising well before the October 7 Hamas attacks. He also criticized the firms for “trying to score a cheap public relations boost from jumping on the ‘blame campuses’ train.”
But in fairness to the firms, American university campuses definitely deserve a lot of blame. Even though I’m generally not a fan of law firms opining on geopolitics, I do see a difference between random musings on world affairs and statements about firm-specific issues, such as training future associates. And while “don’t harass Jewish colleagues“ might seem obvious, in a world where even a Harvard Law Review editor has been caught on video accosting and shoving an Israeli student, a reminder about the limits of free speech might be in order.
Ady Barkan, a Yale Law graduate turned outspoken advocate for universal healthcare, passed away at 39, from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).
Monica Bay, a lawyer turned leading legal journalist, passed away at 74, after struggling for years with a neurological disease. I edited a column by Monica when I was at Above the Law, and I agree with what Bob Ambrogi wrote in his heartfelt tribute: “As a dear friend, trusted mentor, and inspirational role model to so many in the world of legal tech, Monica stood alone.”
May they rest in peace.
Judge of the Week: Judge Roy Altman.
Pro-Palestine or even pro-Hamas law students aren’t the only ones getting into controversies over opining on the Israel-Hamas conflict. It’s happening to federal judges too—specifically, Judge Roy Altman (S.D. Fla.).
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