Minimum Competence - Daily Legal News Podcast
Minimum Competence
Thurs 11/2 - DJTJ Says He Didn't Do Nuttin', Judges Defeat Misconduct Claim, Dunkin' Settles Vapin' Donuts Case and Tesla Wins its First Autopilot Suit

Thurs 11/2 - DJTJ Says He Didn't Do Nuttin', Judges Defeat Misconduct Claim, Dunkin' Settles Vapin' Donuts Case and Tesla Wins its First Autopilot Suit

We have DJTJ claiming a minor role in Dad’s company, judges defeat misconduct claims in racist accusation, Dunkin’ settles Vapin’ Donuts case and Tesla wins its first ‘Autopilot’ suit.

Pencil Sketch of a doughnut and a vape pen.

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On this day in legal history, November 2nd 1795, President James Knox Polk was born–but he wasn’t born president, he was elected later in life.

James Knox Polk, the 11th President of the United States (1845-1849), was a significant figure in American history known for his expansionist policies and borderline despotic leadership during a period of territorial growth. Before becoming President, Polk served as the Speaker of the House of Representatives and Governor of Tennessee. His presidency was marked by a strong stance on manifest destiny, which posited that the United States was destined to expand across the North American continent.

One of the most consequential actions during Polk's presidency was the initiation and prosecution of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). This conflict arose from the annexation of Texas and disputes over the western boundary of the United States. Polk believed that acquiring the territories of California and New Mexico from Mexico was crucial for the nation’s growth.

The war began in 1846 after Mexican troops attacked American forces near the Rio Grande, a region both countries claimed. Polk swiftly sought a declaration of war from Congress, stating that Mexico had "shed American blood on American soil." The war was controversial and had both staunch supporters and vehement opponents.

One notable opponent was Congressman Abraham Lincoln, who was a member of the Whig Party and represented Illinois. In 1847, Lincoln introduced a resolution in Congress known as the "Spot Resolutions," which challenged President Polk to provide the exact spot where American blood was spilled, as Polk had claimed in justifying the war. Lincoln's intent was to press Polk on the justification for the war, questioning the integrity of the claim that the conflict was initiated by Mexico on U.S. soil.

The war ended in 1848 with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which significantly expanded U.S. territory. Under the treaty, Mexico ceded vast territories to the United States including present-day California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and parts of Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Oklahoma in exchange for $15 million.

Polk's presidency, while relatively short, had a lasting impact on the nation’s territorial boundaries and set the stage for future U.S. expansion. However, the manner in which he pursued territorial acquisition, especially the war with Mexico, left a legacy of controversy that resonated in American politics for many years, particularly as it related to the broader issue of slavery's expansion into new territories.

Generally speaking folks that had serious disagreements with Abraham Lincoln have not borne up well under the weight of their positions in the fullness of history. 

Donald Trump Jr., in a trial concerning fraudulent financial documents at the Trump Organization, testified having minimal involvement in preparing these documents. During his 1.5-hour testimony, he mentioned providing cash-flow figures to accountants while overseeing the company with his brother Eric during their father's presidency (2017-2021). However, he denied direct involvement in preparing the statements of financial condition of properties, which prosecutors claim were fraudulently inflated to secure favorable terms from lenders and insurers. Donald Jr., along with his father and brother Eric, are co-defendants in this case.

The trial, presided over by Judge Arthur Engoron, has already seen a ruling that Trump and his company fraudulently inflated asset values, with the lawsuit seeking at least $250 million in fines and bans against Trump and his sons from running businesses in New York. This case is a part of the legal hurdles faced by Trump amidst his campaign for the 2024 Presidential Election. Trump has refuted the allegations, accusing Attorney General Letitia James and Judge Engoron of political bias, despite facing a limited gag order.

The trial continues with expected testimonies from Eric and Ivanka Trump, and a scheduled testimony from Donald Trump on the following Monday. This case adds to the legal pressure on Trump, who also faces four separate criminal prosecutions related to attempts to overturn his 2020 election defeat. Amidst the ongoing legal battles, Trump had a court appearance with his former attorney Michael Cohen, who testified against Trump regarding the inflation of asset values.

Donald Trump Jr. says he played minor role in company finances | Reuters

A federal judicial panel has decided not to revisit its prior decision of clearing two Republican-appointed judges, Chief U.S. Circuit Judge William Pryor and U.S. District Judge Corey Maze, of misconduct regarding the hiring of a law clerk, Crystal Clanton, who was reported to have engaged in racist behavior during her time at a conservative nonprofit. Despite a directive from the national judicial misconduct panel in July 2022 to conduct a new investigation, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Judicial Council upheld its January 2022 decision on the matter. The national panel had criticized the 2nd Circuit for not establishing a special committee to investigate the allegations before clearing the judges.

The request for a new investigation was propelled by Democrats on the U.S. House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee, arguing for a need to assure the public of a lack of racial bias in the judges' chambers. However, the 2nd Circuit, in a two-page order, supported the arguments of Pryor and Maze that the national committee overstepped its authority as the 2nd Circuit's dismissal order was deemed final under the relevant statute. They argued that a 2008 rule enabling the national conduct committee to order the circuit council to act conflicted with the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act of 1980.

The case came into the spotlight due to Clanton's alleged racist conduct while serving as the national field director of the conservative student group, Turning Point USA, which was highlighted in a 2017 New Yorker story. Following her resignation from Turning Point, Clanton was hired by Ginni Thomas, spouse of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and later pursued a law degree at George Mason University's Antonin Scalia Law School. Upon graduation, she was set to clerk for Maze before starting a clerkship under Pryor in 2023, sparking controversy and complaints from House Democrats in 2021.

US judges defeat misconduct case over hiring of clerk accused of racism | Reuters

Dunkin', the doughnut chain, has settled a trademark lawsuit against an e-cigarette maker, Singh Handicraft Corp, who allegedly misused Dunkin's branding for its "Vapin' Donuts" products. The settlement was reported in a filing in New York federal court, where Dunkin' and Singh Handicraft Corp informed the court of their resolution in principle, with Singh agreeing to a permanent injunction to stop the infringement. The lawsuit, filed in September, claimed that Singh's disposable vaporizers used for flavored nicotine bore a strong resemblance to Dunkin's branding. The "Vapin' Donuts" vaporizers were particularly shaped like iced coffee cups and glazed doughnuts, featuring logos with a similar color scheme and font as Dunkin'.

The lawsuit also pointed out that Singh offered the vaporizers in flavors identical to Dunkin's drinks, like White Mocha and Iced Cappuccino, which Dunkin' argued could mislead consumers into associating the products with their brand. Some buyers even mentioned purchasing the vaporizers due to their affection for Dunkin'. While the details of the settlement weren't immediately available, this case highlights a scenario of alleged trademark infringement between industries.

Dunkin' settles 'Vapin' Donuts' lawsuit against e-cigarette maker | Reuters

This last story includes a reference to a death in an automobile crash, if that isn’t something you can hear today we get it and we’ll see you back here tomorrow!

Tesla secured a major legal victory in the first U.S. trial over allegations that its Autopilot feature led to a fatal crash. This marks Tesla's second significant win this year in court where juries found no defect in its software. The recent case was held in Riverside County Superior Court, concerning a 2019 crash where a Model 3, allegedly on Autopilot, veered off a highway, hit a palm tree and caught fire, resulting in the death of owner Micah Lee and serious injuries to his passengers. The plaintiffs sought $400 million plus punitive damages.

Tesla refuted the liability, attributing the crash to the driver's alcohol consumption before the incident and arguing the ambiguity surrounding whether Autopilot was engaged during the crash. The jury, after four days of deliberation, reached a 9-3 verdict, ruling that there was no manufacturing defect in the vehicle. Tesla reiterated that its vehicles are well-designed and contribute to road safety, while the plaintiff's attorney acknowledged the verdict but noted that Tesla was heavily scrutinized during the trial.

Legal commentators highlighted that the verdicts in this and an earlier case underscore a judicial focus on human responsibility despite the vehicle’s Autopilot features. However, Tesla's Autopilot and Full Self-Driving systems continue to face regulatory, legal scrutiny, and ongoing federal investigations. Despite these challenges, this win in a high-stake trial portrays a favorable judicial stance towards Tesla, at least in terms of manufacturing quality, which may influence the outcomes of future lawsuits involving autonomous driving technology.

Tesla wins first US Autopilot trial involving fatal crash | Reuters

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