On this day in legal history, August 16, 1918, Lothar Witzke was convicted of espionage in the United States on behalf of Germany and became the first German spy convicted during World War I.
Lothar Witzke was a junior officer in the German Imperial Navy during World War I, who became a spy and saboteur in the United States and Mexico. After escaping internment in Chile, he reached San Francisco in 1916 and began sabotage activities with another agent, Kurt Jahnke. They were involved in various missions, including suspected connections to significant explosions, though later investigations ruled out their involvement in some cases.
Witzke was arrested in 1918 near the Mexican border, convicted, and sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by President Woodrow Wilson. After an act of heroism in prison and diplomatic pressure from Germany, he was pardoned and released by President Calvin Coolidge in 1923. Upon his return to Germany, Witzke was decorated with the Iron Cross and later served in the Abwehr, or German military intelligence, during World War II. After the war, he became a member of the Hamburg Parliament, representing the German Party from 1949 to 1952.
Donald Trump may have a 40 point lead ahead of DeSantis in the GOP primary, and Chris Christie may have overtaken the Florida governor in early New Hampshire polling, but among one demographic DeSantis seems to have the edge over all other Republican candidates–lawyers.
According to a report by Bloomberg Law, Ron DeSantis has a significant advantage over Donald Trump in campaign donations from lawyers, leading with a 6-to-1 ratio. As of the end of June, DeSantis had received over $1.3 million from individual lawyer contributions, compared to just under $200,000 for Trump. DeSantis's background includes a Harvard Law School education and time as a U.S. Navy lawyer, while Trump has been known to criticize and even sue attorneys. Many larger law firms seem uncomfortable supporting Trump, contributing to DeSantis's advantage.
DeSantis's fundraising from lawyers has also surpassed other GOP primary candidates, including former Governor Nikki Haley and Senator Tim Scott. His campaign haul includes significant contributions from elite law firms like Sullivan & Cromwell. DeSantis's support in Republican legal circles also includes several high-ranking Trump Justice Department officials and lawyers from Jones Day.
While DeSantis leads in lawyer contributions, he still trails Trump by double digits in state and national polls. Some political analysts question whether DeSantis's momentum will continue, especially as his campaign has faced staff shakeups and strategy shifts. Meanwhile, Trump's campaign, powered by small-dollar donors, has raised over $50 million between January and June. Contributions from the legal industry have historically favored Democrats, with President Joe Biden out-raising DeSantis among lawyers so far this year with $1.5 million.
Davis Polk & Wardwell, a prominent law firm, has signed a 25-year lease extension to expand its Midtown headquarters in Manhattan, adding 30,000 square feet to its current space at 450 Lexington Ave. This deal increases the firm's footprint to 700,000 square feet, making it the largest commercial space leased in New York City in 2023, as announced by the building's landlord RXR Realty. The firm's managing partner, Neil Barr, emphasized that the expansion reflects the firm's growth strategy.
Davis Polk has been proactive in moving back to in-office work after the pandemic and is requiring its lawyers and business services personnel to be in the office Monday through Thursday after Labor Day. The building, located near Grand Central Terminal, will undergo a $300 million renovation, including private outdoor terraces for Davis Polk and new gathering spaces.
The firm's lease renewal comes amid a challenging time for Manhattan's commercial real estate market, with available office space reaching an all-time high in the second quarter of 2023. Financial and legal services have dominated the leasing transactions, with Davis Polk's lease being a significant highlight. Other law firms like Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, Paul Hastings, and Sheppard Mullin have also renewed or expanded their New York footprints this quarter.
A Delaware judge has ruled that the fair value of Pivotal Software Inc.'s shares at the time of its 2019 go-private merger with VMWare Inc. was $14.83 per share. This ruling came in an appraisal suit brought by Pivotal's former investors, who argued that the shares should have been worth $20, while Pivotal sought a valuation closer to $12. Chancellor Kathaleen St. J. McCormick arrived at the fair value figure by averaging two valuation methods suggested by the parties. The court's decision also clarified that the deal price does not provide a cap on fair value, emphasizing the importance of strong procedural protections for minority stockholders.
The American Bar Association (ABA) is considering a new rule that may require law schools to adopt free speech policies. This change comes after several incidents where students disrupted controversial speakers on campuses. The ABA's Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar will consider a rule mandating "written policies that encourage and support the free expression of ideas." Schools would develop their own policies, but they must protect the rights of faculty, staff, and students to communicate controversial ideas and ensure robust debate.
The proposed rule emphasizes that becoming an effective advocate requires learning civil discourse, even in disagreement, and that concerns about civility should not justify barring controversial discussions. While ABA's law school standards have covered academic freedom for faculty, this proposal would be the first to address free speech for the entire law school community.
Prominent U.S. law schools have faced criticism for handling student protests against conservative speakers, leading to apologies and mandated free speech training at institutions like Stanford. Yale Law School also strengthened its commitment to free speech after disruptive incidents. The proposed rule would allow restrictions on unlawful expression, defamatory speech, threats, harassment, or unjustifiable invasions of privacy, and would enable reasonable regulation of the time and manner of expression. The council is set to vote on Friday on whether to send the proposed rule for public notice and comment, and further revisions are anticipated.
A federal appeals court has refused to revive a lawsuit by longtime umpire Angel Hernandez, who accused Major League Baseball (MLB) of racial discrimination. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan rejected Hernandez's arguments in a 3-0 decision, stating that the league's promotion practices, including its failure to promote him to crew chief, did not reflect unfair treatment of minorities. Hernandez, an MLB umpire since 1993, claimed he had been discriminated against after being passed over for crew chief five times between 2011 and 2018. He also cited a "history of animosity" with Joe Torre, MLB's chief baseball officer at the time of the lawsuit. The court found that Hernandez failed to show a statistically significant disparity in promotion rates, despite a "bottom-line imbalance" between white and minority crew chiefs. It also rejected Hernandez's claim that the judge erred in accepting MLB's reasons for not promoting him, which included a missed call and an "overly confrontational style." The court upheld the March 2021 dismissal of the lawsuit, and lawyers for Hernandez did not immediately respond to requests for comment. In 2020, MLB named its first black and Hispanic crew chiefs born outside the United States.