On this day in legal history, September 18, noted jurist and Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story was born. He got a lot of things right, and a lot of things wrong.
Joseph Story, born on September 18, 1779, in Marblehead, Massachusetts, hailed from a family with a rich history of involvement in significant events leading up to the American Revolution. Despite initial aspirations in poetry, Story eventually focused on a career in law, spurred by early setbacks in his literary endeavors. His legal journey began under the mentorship of prominent attorneys Samuel Sewell and Samuel Putnam, culminating in his bar admission in 1801.
Story's legal career blossomed as he garnered success in the courtroom and formed political alliances with influential figures like Jacob Crowninshield. His notable stint in the Massachusetts and federal legislature between 1805 and 1811 saw him briefly serve as the Speaker of the House for the Massachusetts House of Representatives. His legal acumen was recognized nationally when he successfully argued the landmark case Fletcher v. Peck before the Supreme Court in 1810, a case that marked the first instance of a state law being deemed unconstitutional.
Story became the youngest Associate Justice to serve in the Supreme Court at the age of 32, nominated by President James Madison in 1811. Despite initial expectations of a divergent judicial philosophy from Justice John Marshall, Story embraced a vision that fortified the power of the Federal government, often collaborating closely with Marshall. His tenure on the bench was marked by landmark rulings that expanded the Supreme Court's authority and strengthened federal judicial power, notably in cases like Martin v. Hunter's Lessee and Swift v. Tyson.
A staunch nationalist, Story vehemently opposed slavery, a stance evident in his ruling in the 1841 Amistad case where he advocated for the rights of African captives. However, his commitment to nation-building led to an incorrect ruling in Prigg v. Pennsylvania, reinforcing the federal Fugitive Slave Law of 1793, a decision that compromised the safety of escaped enslaved individuals and free black people in the north alike.
Despite the challenges of circuit duties, Story remained passionate about education, joining Harvard's law faculty in 1829 and authoring seminal legal texts that illuminated complex legal concepts. His dedication to fostering a nationalist vision of federal law left an indelible mark on American jurisprudence, cementing his legacy as a formidable constitutional and legal scholar albeit not one without negative marks. His prioritizing of nation building ahead of the human rights of enslaved and free people is a serious blemish on what could have been a much more impactful public life. If Joseph Story were alive today he would be celebrating his 244th birthday and be super dead.
The UK-based Woodsford Group Ltd., a prominent entity in the $13.5 billion litigation finance industry, is planning to sell its portfolio of passive US investments to concentrate on spearheading large-scale lawsuits against corporate malpractices. CEO Steven Friel revealed that this strategic shift aims to fuel the company's growth and reposition it in the market, although the details of the portfolio's size and value remain undisclosed. Woodsford intends to independently identify and organize lawsuits, moving away from merely investing in cases brought forward by law firms.
This move comes as a response to a gap in the market created by a 2010 US Supreme Court ruling that restricts the trial of securities cases with significant foreign elements in the US. Woodsford plans to orchestrate these cases abroad, focusing on those that were previously under US jurisdiction. The company aims to initially seek non-litigious compensation for large groups of stakeholders affected by corporate wrongdoings, resorting to funded litigation if necessary. This strategy shift is in line with the emerging trend of substantial secondary transactions in the litigation funding sector, as noted by industry experts.
The federal prosecutor's office in Muskogee, Oklahoma, is facing difficulties in recruiting attorneys to manage the increasing caseloads resulting from a Supreme Court ruling that altered Indian law jurisdiction. Despite receiving funding to expand from 8 to 159 employees, the office has struggled to attract qualified candidates willing to relocate to the economically challenged area. The 2020 Supreme Court case, McGirt v. Oklahoma, shifted the responsibility of prosecuting crimes on tribal lands to federal and tribal agencies, significantly burdening the Eastern District of Oklahoma, which encompasses a 26-county region within Indian territory.
The recruitment challenges are exacerbated by the remote location and the stress associated with adapting to the federal judicial system's stringent criminal procedures. While some attorneys were initially eager to gain federal experience, many found the transition too challenging and left shortly after. In contrast, the neighboring Northern District, home to Tulsa, successfully doubled its attorney ranks to 68 within three years, leveraging the city's appeal. Experts suggest focusing recruitment efforts on local Oklahoma law school graduates to foster long-term retention. Meanwhile, US Attorney Christopher Wilson continues to emphasize the unique opportunities the role offers in hopes of attracting experienced trial lawyers.
The Texas Senate acquitted Attorney General Ken Paxton, a prominent Republican figure, on all 16 articles of impeachment he was facing, allowing him to retain his position. Despite being embroiled in corruption allegations since assuming office in 2014 and currently being under FBI investigation, Paxton managed to secure acquittal with ease. Throughout the trial, he maintained his innocence, dismissing the proceedings as a political witch hunt. The impeachment trial, which revealed deep divisions within the Texas Republican Party, saw Paxton's former aides testify against him, accusing him of corruption and abuse of power, primarily to shield a wealthy donor and conceal an extramarital affair.
Former President Donald Trump and Texas Governor Greg Abbott praised Paxton's acquittal, with Abbott commending Paxton's resistance against the Biden administration. However, critics like Senator Roland Gutierrez criticized the verdict, attributing it to a flawed system that enables abuse of power. The trial, which began on September 5, has been criticized by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick for its lack of transparency and unnecessary expenditure of taxpayer money. So ends a rare occurrence in Texas politics, with the last impeachment trial of a statewide officeholder occurring in 1917.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has announced that Lyft has consented to pay a $10 million civil penalty to settle charges pertaining to non-disclosure of a board member's financial interest in a company transaction. Before Lyft went public in March 2019, a director on the company's board facilitated the sale of private shares worth $424 million through a special purpose vehicle connected to them, a detail that was not disclosed in Lyft's 2019 SEC filings. The SEC emphasized that Lyft was obligated to reveal the particulars of the transaction, given its role in approving the private sales. The involved director exited the board concurrent with the transaction. Lyft has neither confirmed nor denied the SEC's claims and has not yet commented on the matter.