Minimum Competence - Daily Legal News Podcast
Minimum Competence
Legal News for Tues 3/12 - WilmerHale and Harvard, InfoWars Bankruptcy Nonsense, Walmart Ducks Much of Opioid Suit, TikTok Divestment Bill and Global Minimum Tax

Legal News for Tues 3/12 - WilmerHale and Harvard, InfoWars Bankruptcy Nonsense, Walmart Ducks Much of Opioid Suit, TikTok Divestment Bill and Global Minimum Tax

WilmerHale's Harvard scrutiny, Infowars' bankruptcy, Walmart's opioid lawsuit win, TikTok's divestment bill in Congress. and Column Tuesday arguing for a global minimum tax.
Artistic representation of Donald Trump becoming okay with TikTok.

This Day in Legal History: Janet Reno Sworn in as U.S. Attorney General

On March 12, 1993, a groundbreaking moment in the annals of American legal and political history unfolded as Janet Reno was sworn in as the first female U.S. Attorney General. Appointed by President Bill Clinton, Reno's confirmation by the Senate marked a significant milestone, shattering a glass ceiling in the highest echelons of the U.S. justice system. Her tenure, which lasted until January 20, 2001, remains the longest in the 20th century for this pivotal role. Reno was known for her straightforward approach and her commitment to addressing complex issues directly, which earned her both admiration and criticism.

Reno's time in office was characterized by her involvement in some of the most contentious and high-profile cases of the 1990s. She oversaw the prosecution of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, demonstrating her dedication to combatting domestic terrorism. Her decisions, such as the authorization of the armed seizure of Elián González, a Cuban boy embroiled in international custody and immigration controversy, and her handling of the Branch Davidian siege in Waco, Texas, were sources of national debate, highlighting the challenges and pressures of her role.

Despite the controversies, Reno's contributions to justice and her trailblazing role as the first woman to serve as U.S. Attorney General had a lasting impact on the legal landscape. Her tenure helped pave the way for future generations of women in law and public service, inspiring countless individuals to pursue careers in these fields. Janet Reno's legacy is a testament to her resilience, leadership, and unwavering commitment to justice, marking March 12 as a notable date in legal history for celebrating her historic swearing-in and the doors it opened for women in the legal profession.

An anonymous ethics complaint has been filed against William Lee, a distinguished attorney from WilmerHale, urging the Massachusetts attorney general's office to delve into the firm's interactions with Harvard University. Lee, who also served on Harvard's governing board for over a decade, and WilmerHale represented Harvard in its legal fight to maintain its race-based admissions policy, a battle ultimately lost at the Supreme Court. Additionally, the firm prepared former Harvard president Claudine Gay for a congressional hearing on antisemitism, which contributed to her resignation. Despite these incidents highlighting the connections between WilmerHale and Harvard, experts like Stephen Gillers from NYU suggest there's no apparent wrongdoing based solely on Lee's dual roles.

The complaint alleges Lee may have breached conflict of interest regulations for public entities due to his position at Harvard and his involvement in its legal affairs, especially the affirmative action litigation. WilmerHale defended its legal representation of Harvard, stating Lee recused himself from any school decisions regarding the case, and Harvard, in a 2018 statement, claimed Lee received no payment for his work on the affirmative action case or any related revenue from the firm's billing to Harvard. Legal ethics professionals note that Lee's actions, including his decision to recuse himself, likely didn't violate any rules, though questions about compensation remain partially unanswered.

Lee's role in WilmerHale's relationship with Harvard during the legal challenges to its admissions policies has drawn scrutiny, especially considering the firm's substantial legal fees from Harvard during this period. However, both Harvard and WilmerHale have maintained that Lee's involvement and the firm's compensation practices were ethical and transparent. Lee's significant contributions to both Harvard and WilmerHale, including his leadership in a pivotal lawsuit and his recusal from fiduciary duties related to the case, illustrate the complexities of navigating legal ethics in high-profile cases.

WilmerHale’s Work for Harvard Scrutinized in Ethics Complaint

The parent company of Alex Jones' Infowars, Free Speech Systems LLC, amidst its bankruptcy proceedings, has obtained court approval to change its legal representation as it faces a pivotal phase that could lead to either a restructure or a systematic shutdown. This decision was sanctioned by Judge Christopher Lopez from the US Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas, emphasizing that this switch in counsel should not decelerate the ongoing case. The approval came after stakeholders in the Chapter 11 bankruptcy case, filed under a special chapter for small businesses separate from Jones himself in 2022, consented to the replacement of lead attorney Ray Battaglia with the O’ConnorWechsler PLLC firm.

This strategic move is part of broader efforts to navigate through bankruptcy while addressing over $1.5 billion in judgments against Jones and Infowars for defaming Sandy Hook victims' families. Jones had previously called the tragedy, where 26 were killed in Newtown, Connecticut, a hoax perpetrated by "crisis actors." The trustee overseeing the bankruptcy highlighted concerns about the viability of Free Speech Systems' reorganization and suggested that the court might need to consider converting the case to a Chapter 7 liquidation. This comes as litigation continues against PQPR Holdings, an Infowars vendor implicated in insider payments, suggesting an intricate web of financial and legal challenges as the company seeks to resolve its liabilities and navigate through bankruptcy.

Infowars Parent Gets New Lawyer Amid Bankruptcy Case Concerns

In a significant development in the ongoing opioid crisis litigation, Walmart Inc. achieved a partial victory when a federal judge dismissed two of the three charges against it brought by the US government. Chief Judge Colm F. Connolly of the US District Court for the District of Delaware ruled in favor of Walmart by dismissing charges that accused the retail giant of failing to report suspicious orders of controlled substances and not adhering to standard pharmacy practice in filling prescriptions. These dismissals were grounded in interpretations of the Controlled Substances Act, with Connolly stating that the act does not deem the failure to comply with reporting requirements or to adhere to standard pharmacy practices as unlawful, nor does it subject violators to civil penalties.

However, Walmart's motion to dismiss a third charge was denied. This charge alleges that Walmart, through its agents and employees, knowingly dispensed controlled substances on prescriptions that were not issued for legitimate medical purposes or were outside the usual course of professional treatment. The decision to keep this charge intact was influenced by precedent from the Third Circuit, underscoring that knowledge of wrongdoing by any employee is attributable to the corporation itself. This mixed ruling leaves Walmart partially vindicated but still facing serious allegations related to its handling of opioid prescriptions, highlighting the complexities of legal responsibilities in the context of the opioid epidemic. Walmart has yet to comment on the judge's rulings.

Walmart Scores Partial Win in Opioid Crisis Suit Brought by US

Legislation aimed at compelling TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, to divest the app or face a U.S. ban is gaining momentum in Congress, despite former President Donald Trump's recent remarks questioning the necessity of a ban. The bipartisan bill, led by House China Committee Chairman Mike Gallagher, seeks to prohibit app stores and ISPs like Apple and Google from hosting TikTok unless ByteDance divests it within six months. This legislative effort received a unanimous vote of approval from the Energy and Commerce Committee. Trump's shift in stance, from previously attempting to ban TikTok due to national security concerns to now suggesting Meta's Facebook poses a greater threat, introduces a complex variable for Republican lawmakers. 

FBI Director Christopher Wray and the annual report from the Office of the Director for National Intelligence have reiterated significant national security risks associated with TikTok, citing instances of China's alleged use of the platform to influence U.S. politics. TikTok has countered these allegations by denying any data sharing with Beijing and by investing over $1.5 billion to safeguard its U.S. operations, including a partnership with Oracle for oversight. 

The bill's future in the Senate remains uncertain, though some senators have expressed potential support. TikTok has mobilized efforts to oppose the bill, including enlisting Republican figures. Meanwhile, voices within Congress advocate for broader internet data protection measures rather than focusing solely on TikTok. This ongoing debate highlights the complexities of addressing cybersecurity, data privacy, and the influence of social media on public discourse.

TikTok Divestment Bill Moves Ahead in House as Trump Wavers

In my column, I delve into the urgent need for the United States to adopt a global minimum tax as a means to combat rampant corporate tax avoidance, a situation exacerbated by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017. Despite the act's promises, its aftermath has primarily seen the institutionalization of tax evasion practices rather than the anticipated economic growth. I argue that President Joe Biden's proposal for a global minimum tax of 21% on multinational earnings in each jurisdiction is a critical step towards halting the detrimental race to the bottom in corporate tax rates, thus leveling the playing field for U.S. businesses.

My analysis points out that following the TCJA, many corporations have paid significantly less in taxes than intended, with a study showing an effective tax rate of just 14.1% for 342 of the most profitable companies. This starkly contrasts with the act's reduced rate of 21%, underscoring the policy's failure to curb tax evasion effectively. I contend that revisiting the advocacy for a global minimum tax is not only timely but essential for the integrity of the corporate tax framework, especially as Biden's administration's tax policies face uncertainty with the approaching presidential election.

I emphasize the necessity of tax transparency in achieving equitable corporate taxation. This involves mandating standardized disclosures of taxes paid across jurisdictions and the specifics of tax benefits and credits received, thereby allowing tax authorities, the public, and stakeholders to scrutinize corporations' tax strategies more effectively.

Further, I discuss the broader context of the global minimum tax initiative led by the G20 and OECD, which the U.S. has yet to join. This reluctance leaves the U.S. missing out on potential revenue from the global minimum tax rate of 15% agreed upon by over 140 countries, which could support critical domestic investments. I challenge the arguments against the global minimum tax, highlighting the benefits of discouraging harmful tax competition and simplifying compliance for multinational corporations.

In sum, I tried through my column to underscore the imperative for the U.S. to embrace the global minimum tax as a robust solution to corporate tax avoidance, fostering fairness, equity, and the necessary fiscal resources to invest in the nation's future.

US Must Adopt Global Minimum Tax to Fight Corporate Tax Avoidance

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