Minimum Competence - Daily Legal News Podcast
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Legal News for Fri 2/2 - Proskauer Settles with Ex-COO, Trump Fraud Verdict Delayed, Tesla's Governance Reform Push and Where in the World is Justice Devine?
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Legal News for Fri 2/2 - Proskauer Settles with Ex-COO, Trump Fraud Verdict Delayed, Tesla's Governance Reform Push and Where in the World is Justice Devine?

We have Proskauer's settlement with ex-COO O’Brien, the expected Trump fraud verdict, Tesla's governance reform push, and Justice Devine's court absences.

A Tesla driving through Texas with money flying out of the windows, bad pencil sketch.

This Day in Legal History: The Incorporation of the City of New Amsterdam

On this day in legal history, February 2nd marks a significant moment with the incorporation of the City of New Amsterdam in 1653 by the Dutch Republic. This historic event laid the groundwork for what would become one of the most influential cities in the world. Situated on the southern tip of Manhattan Island, New Amsterdam served as a pivotal trading and administrative center of the Dutch colony of New Netherland. Its strategic location played a crucial role in the burgeoning trade network between the New World and Europe.

However, the city's Dutch identity was not to last. In 1664, following the British conquest, New Amsterdam underwent a profound transformation, symbolized by its renaming to New York in honor of the Duke of York. This change marked a significant shift not just in governance but in the cultural and legal fabric of the city. The British takeover introduced English legal practices and administrative structures, which would influence the development of New York and, by extension, the emerging United States.

Today, as we reflect on the incorporation of New Amsterdam, we recognize it as a moment of convergence between Dutch and English legal traditions that would shape the character of New York City. The legacy of this transformation is still evident in the city's diverse cultural tapestry, its role as a global economic powerhouse, and its legal system, which continues to influence international law and commerce. The story of New Amsterdam's incorporation and its subsequent renaming to New York serves as a reminder of the dynamic and ever-evolving nature of legal and urban history.


Proskauer, a prominent Big Law firm, has successfully reached a confidential settlement with its former chief operating officer, Jonathan O’Brien, concluding a legal battle over allegations of trade secret theft. This dispute centered on O’Brien's accused misappropriation of sensitive electronic files detailing the firm’s finances, business strategies, and billing rates. Proskauer initiated the lawsuit following O’Brien's sudden resignation in December 2022, amid claims he intended to utilize these files for a prospective position at competing firm Paul Hastings—a move that ultimately did not transpire. O’Brien has contested these accusations, arguing his actions were merely to facilitate work related to his departure while on vacation in a remote location. The settlement, detailed in a court submission, seeks a permanent injunction preventing O’Brien from retaining or employing the disputed confidential materials. Despite the resolution, representatives for both parties have yet to publicly comment on the matter. Before this legal fray, O’Brien, a UK national non-lawyer, had contributed five years of service as Proskauer's COO.

Proskauer Reaches Settlement with Ex-COO in Trade Secrets Row


The verdict in the $370 million civil fraud case against former U.S. President Donald Trump, overseen by Justice Arthur Engoron, is now expected to be delivered in early to mid-February, following a three-month trial last year. Initially, Justice Engoron aimed to conclude by the end of January, but this timeline has been extended. The lawsuit, filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James, accuses Trump and his family businesses of inflating his net worth by up to $3.6 billion annually over ten years to obtain favorable loan conditions. Trump has rebutted these claims, denouncing the lawsuit as a politically motivated attack by James, a Democrat.

If found liable, Trump could face significant consequences, including monetary penalties and a permanent ban from the New York real estate sector, significantly impacting his business operations within the state. This legal battle unfolds as Trump campaigns for the Republican nomination to run against President Joe Biden in the upcoming election. Engoron had previously determined in September that Trump committed fraud, leading to an order to partially dissolve his business empire, a decision Trump is appealing. The final arguments were made on January 11, with Trump criticizing Engoron directly in court for alleged bias, prompting a call for decorum from the judge.

Trump civil fraud verdict now expected by mid-February | Reuters


Activist investors at Tesla are poised to leverage a recent Delaware court ruling against CEO Elon Musk's $56 billion stock compensation package to push for corporate governance reforms. The court's decision, which criticized Tesla's board for its deference to Musk, has emboldened these investors, who have struggled in the past to secure significant changes at shareholder meetings. They argue that the ruling could sway major index funds and investors to support their resolutions, such as altering the voting threshold for corporate changes to a simple majority. Tesla has not yet scheduled its annual shareholder meeting, typically held in May, where only a few directors, including Musk's brother Kimbal and James Murdoch, are up for re-election. Both directors previously faced opposition from proxy advisers over concerns related to executive compensation, and activist investors expect advisory firms like ISS and Glass Lewis to bolster their case against Tesla's board this year. Additionally, a new shareholder resolution proposes annual re-elections for all directors, challenging the current staggered board system. With Musk holding a significant voting stake, critics will need support from major mutual fund holders to effect change. The Delaware judge's scathing review of the board's negotiation process for Musk's compensation plan may also prompt Tesla's top investors to reconsider their stance on governance issues.

Tesla activist investors to seize on Elon Musk pay ruling | Reuters


Texas Supreme Court Justice John Devine has been notably absent from more than half of the court's oral arguments since the current term began in September, opting instead to campaign for re-election. Despite the critical nature of the cases being heard, including those concerning Texas' abortion ban and laws regarding medical treatment for transgender children, Devine has missed 28 of the 50 argued cases. His absence from these proceedings, while not violating the state's elections code, has sparked debate about his ability to fulfill his judicial responsibilities. Devine, who is running for a third term and faces a primary challenge, defends his campaign activities as part of his duties, asserting that he remains informed by reviewing case briefs and watching archived video of the proceedings he misses. However, this approach prevents him from directly questioning lawyers during arguments, potentially impacting his grasp of complex legal issues. Critics, including his primary opponent Justice Brian Walker, argue that Devine's priorities may not align with the judicial code of conduct, which emphasizes the precedence of judicial duties over other activities. Despite the controversy, Devine's campaign has been financially successful, raising significant funds and outpacing his opponent in the lead-up to the primary. This situation underscores the tension between the demands of electoral politics and the expectations of judicial office, highlighting the unique challenges faced by elected judges in balancing these roles.

Justice Misses Half of Texas Supreme Court Arguments to Campaign


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This week's closing music features the vibrant Allegro from Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy's Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64, a masterpiece that has captivated audiences and performers alike with its lyrical beauty and innovative structure. It was Mendelssohn’s final concerto before his untimely death due to illness at the age of 38. Born on February 3, 1809, in Hamburg, Germany, Mendelssohn was a musical prodigy who made significant contributions to the Romantic era, both as a composer and conductor. This weekend marks the anniversary of his birth, and if he were alive today, Mendelssohn would be celebrating his 215th birthday.

His Violin Concerto, premiered in 1845, stands as one of the most important and beloved works in the violin repertoire, admired for its emotional depth and technical brilliance. Mendelssohn's ability to blend classical forms with the expressive power of the Romantic era is exemplified in this concerto, particularly in the seamless flow from the first movement into the second, a departure from traditional concerto form that was innovative at the time. This recording, a testament to Mendelssohn's enduring legacy, is made available through the generosity of the University of Chicago Orchestra and under a Creative Commons license, allowing us to appreciate and share the genius of Mendelssohn's compositions. As we listen to the Allegro from his Violin Concerto, we highlight not only Mendelssohn's contribution to music but also the spirit of innovation and expression that defines the Romantic era. If you’re looking for more Mendelssohn, and who among us is not, I highly recommend the performance by Ray Chen, available on YouTube and linked in the shownotes. 

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Minimum Competence - Daily Legal News Podcast
Minimum Competence
The idea is that this podcast can accompany you on your commute home and will render you minimally competent on the major legal news stories of the day. The transcript is available in the form of a newsletter at www.minimumcomp.com.