Minimum Competence - Daily Legal News Podcast
Minimum Competence
Legal News for Tues 3/26 - Assange Extradition Reprieve, GOP Donors Aid Trump's Fraud Bond, Bechtolsheim SEC Settlement and IRS Direct File Demands Universal Broadband

Legal News for Tues 3/26 - Assange Extradition Reprieve, GOP Donors Aid Trump's Fraud Bond, Bechtolsheim SEC Settlement and IRS Direct File Demands Universal Broadband

We have Assange's court reprieve, GOP donors aiding Trump's fraud bond, Bechtolsheim's SEC settlement, and my column on Direct File and the need for universal broadband access.
Biological weapons in a dumpster, pencil sketch

This Day in Legal History: Biological Weapons Convention Goes into Force 

This day in legal history, March 26, 1975, marked a seminal moment in the global effort to curtail the proliferation of some of the most dangerous weapons known to humanity. The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction, more commonly known as the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), officially went into force. This landmark treaty represented the first multilateral disarmament agreement banning an entire category of weapons of mass destruction. As of today, 162 countries have joined the Convention, committing themselves to a world free of biological threats by agreeing never to "develop, produce, stockpile or otherwise acquire or retain" biological weapons.

The Convention not only prohibits the development and stockpiling of biological and toxin weapons but also mandates the destruction of any existing stockpiles, thereby setting a precedent for future disarmament treaties. Despite the widespread support, some signatory nations have maintained the right to possess certain biological agents and toxins for "prophylactic" purposes, a stipulation that underscores the complexities involved in the treaty's implementation and verification.

Over the years, the BWC has faced challenges, including accusations of non-compliance and the difficulty of ensuring verification without an official monitoring body. Nonetheless, the Convention remains a critical component of the international security architecture, reflecting the global consensus against the use of disease as a weapon. On this anniversary, the international community continues to grapple with evolving threats in the realm of biological warfare, making the principles enshrined in the BWC as relevant as ever. As we reflect on the progress made since 1975, the ongoing commitment of signatory nations to the Convention's objectives is crucial for addressing contemporary and future biosecurity challenges.

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has been granted a temporary reprieve from extradition to the United States by London's High Court. This decision came after the court required the U.S. to assure that Assange would not face the death penalty if extradited. Assange is wanted in the U.S. on 18 counts, primarily under the Espionage Act, related to WikiLeaks' publication of confidential military and diplomatic documents. His legal battle in English courts has spanned over 13 years, with his lawyers recently challenging the UK's approval of his extradition. The High Court ruled that Assange could have a successful appeal based on several grounds, including the risk of being charged with a capital offense like treason in the future, despite current charges not carrying the death penalty.

The court highlighted concerns, notably a past comment by former U.S. President Donald Trump suggesting the death penalty for WikiLeaks' activities, as indicative of the potential risks Assange faces. As a result, the U.S. has been given until April 16 to provide the necessary assurances, delaying Assange's extradition and scheduling a further hearing for May 20. Stella Assange, Julian's wife, praised the decision, calling for the Biden administration to drop the case altogether, which she deemed "shameful." While the court rejected Assange's appeal on claims of political motivation and unfair trial fears, his supporters continue to view him as a journalistic figure persecuted for exposing U.S. misconduct, despite U.S. authorities arguing his actions endangered lives by recklessly publishing sensitive information.

Julian Assange wins temporary reprieve from extradition to US | Reuters

Republican donors rallied behind former U.S. President and presidential candidate Donald Trump to aid in funding the bond required for a $454 million civil fraud judgment against him. Before securing a reduction in the bond amount to $175 million, Trump faced the challenge of raising the full amount to avoid the seizure of his properties. Among the benefactors were billionaire hedge fund founder John Paulson and oil magnate Harold Hamm, although their exact contributions and the total amount raised were not disclosed. Also not disclosed, what they hoped to receive in return for bailing out the former president. 

Trump's legal battle centers on accusations of fraudulently inflating his net worth to obtain better terms for loans and insurance. Despite claims from Trump's campaign that there was no coordinated fundraising effort and assertions of possessing sufficient funds to cover the judgment, reports surfaced of significant offers from donors, including one who proposed over $10 million towards the bond. Following a court decision allowing for a smaller bond, Trump confirmed his capability to meet the requirement promptly, emphasizing his readiness to post the necessary cash, bonds, or securities.

This situation underscores Trump's enduring support among wealthy allies as he navigates financial pressures from legal judgments and campaign expenses ahead of the November presidential election against Democrat Joe Biden. Notably, both Paulson and Hamm are actively involved in fundraising efforts for Trump's campaign, highlighting the complex role of big-money contributions in the political landscape. Additionally, Trump has hinted at considering Paulson for the Treasury Secretary position if reelected.

The saga of funding Trump's bond raises questions about transparency and the potential for scrutiny from election regulators or federal prosecutors, given the limits on campaign contributions and the broad definition of political donations. The difficulty in securing a surety company for the original bond and the implications of asset seizure by the New York Attorney General add layers of complexity to Trump's ongoing legal and financial challenges.

Billionaires sought to help fund Trump bond in civil fraud case, sources say | Reuters

Andreas Bechtolsheim, the founder and former chairman of Arista Networks, has settled insider trading charges with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) by agreeing to pay a civil penalty of nearly $1 million. The settlement, which Bechtolsheim has entered without either admitting or denying the SEC's allegations, also includes a significant restriction on his future professional engagements. Specifically, Bechtolsheim will be barred from serving as an officer or director of any public company for the next five years, as detailed in the SEC's official statement. 

This resolution addresses the SEC's concerns regarding Bechtolsheim's conduct related to insider trading, marking the conclusion of the regulatory scrutiny he faced. The underlying alleged misconduct involved trading on Cisco’s offer to purchase Acacia Communications in 2019. The agreement underscores the SEC's continued efforts to enforce securities laws and maintain fair trading practices within the U.S. financial markets.

Former Arista Networks chairman settles insider trading charges, US SEC says | Reuters

Sun Founder Bechtolsheim Insider-Traded on Tech Deal, SEC Claims - Bloomberg

In my column this week, I delve into the expanding landscape of digital government services and the imperative it places on the government to ensure universal broadband access, particularly for individuals with lower income.

The IRS Direct File pilot program represents a significant step towards offering a free, government-run electronic filing system to the public, aiming to address the long-standing demand fueled by the limitations and costs associated with for-profit tax preparation software. This initiative, however, faces considerable hurdles, notably in ensuring equitable broadband access, especially in rural areas, and the widespread availability of internet-capable devices. It also highlights the critical role of public libraries and their staff in facilitating access to digital tax services, underpinning the broader challenge of digital inclusivity and equity.

As the success of Direct File is contingent upon robust and equitable internet access, the urgency to bridge the digital divide is accentuated, with a particular emphasis on innovative solutions and increased funding to enhance broadband connectivity. This includes exploring short-term alternatives such as subsidized satellite internet and bolstering public library resources to serve as pivotal access points for digital tax services.

Despite nearly universal ownership of computers or smartphones in U.S. homes, disparities persist in broadband access across different demographic and regional groups, with a notable divide along age and racial lines, as well as significant gaps in rural areas and on American Tribal lands. These disparities underscore the challenges some individuals may face in accessing the Direct File portal, despite its mobile-friendly design.

Further, the expiration and depletion of funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program in the coming months may kick as many as 23 million households offline–these households, as you might imagine, trend towards lower income. The very groups for which Direct File can provide the most benefit. 

In light of this, the importance of public libraries as access points for the internet and tax assistance cannot be overstated, with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program poised to play a crucial role in expanding Direct File's reach. However, the reliance on library resources and staff underscores the need for targeted training and increased support for VITA volunteers, ensuring they are equipped to assist taxpayers with Direct File and other digital government services.

Looking ahead, the expansion of government digital services, like Direct File, highlights the necessity of not only making these services accessible but ensuring equitable internet access to prevent digital exclusion. As the government moves more services online, it is imperative to address the digital divide and ensure that all individuals, regardless of their socioeconomic status or geographic location, can benefit from these advancements.

IRS Direct File Should Ignite Push for Universal Internet Access

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