Minimum Competence - Daily Legal News Podcast
Minimum Competence
Weds 10/25 - Trump and Cohen 👀, Eastman Fights for Law License, States Back Subjecting MLB to Antitrust Law, NLRB Case on College Athlete Employee Status and my Drexel Kline Undergraduate Tax Class

Weds 10/25 - Trump and Cohen 👀, Eastman Fights for Law License, States Back Subjecting MLB to Antitrust Law, NLRB Case on College Athlete Employee Status and my Drexel Kline Undergraduate Tax Class

Trump/Cohen have a glare-off in court, Eastman continues fight for law license, states back subjecting MLB to antitrust, an NLRB case on employee status of athletes, and Column Tuesday on my class.

John Eastman being pursued by a dragon, pencil sketch.

On this day in legal history the first televised trial in New York hit the airwaves, paving the way to what would become Court TV and all the other reality-TV-meets-judicial-system abominations currently on air. 

On October 25, 1988, New York witnessed its first-ever televised murder trial, involving Joel Steinberg and Hedda Nussbaum. The couple lived in a tumultuous relationship marked by drug abuse and violence, in a squalid Greenwich Village apartment. Steinberg, a criminal lawyer, used legal loopholes to informally "adopt" two children without proper paperwork, setting the stage for a tragedy that would captivate the nation. The public was shocked when paramedics discovered their six-year-old adopted daughter, Lisa, emaciated and bruised, eventually dying from abuse-induced brain hemorrhage.

Steinberg and Nussbaum were initially charged with attempted murder, which turned into a murder charge after Lisa's life-support was removed. The prosecution relied heavily on Nussbaum's testimony, offering her a plea deal to drop all charges against her in exchange for her cooperation. Judge Harold Rothwax, known for his unflappable demeanor, presided over this emotionally charged trial that scrutinized not just the couple's actions but also their toxic relationship.

Assistant District Attorney Peter Casolaro aimed to dissect this relationship to convince the jury of Steinberg's guilt. Expert witnesses and medical evidence pointed towards Steinberg as the perpetrator of the fatal blows that caused Lisa's brain hemorrhage. Nussbaum’s testimony portrayed her as another victim of Steinberg's abuse, although the defense tried to paint her as a complicit actor rather than just a victim.

The trial concluded with Steinberg being convicted of first-degree manslaughter, receiving a prison term of 8½ to 25 years. The case had a long-lasting impact, leading to the passage of New York's "Lisa Law" in 1988 to address loopholes in private adoption laws. This landmark case not only showcased the dark underbelly of abuse behind closed doors but also shattered the myth that child abuse is confined to any particular socio-economic status.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump and his one-time lawyer, Michael Cohen, faced each other in a Manhattan courtroom for a civil fraud trial concerning the Trump Organization's real estate business practices. Cohen, who severed ties with Trump five years prior, testified that Trump inflated the value of his real estate assets to secure more favorable insurance premiums. His testimony could support New York Attorney General Letitia James' case alleging that Trump and several executives inflated property values, potentially leading to the dissolution of Trump's business empire.

Trump, a frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has consistently denied any wrongdoing. He and his legal team have labeled the case as a "political witch hunt" and have referred to Cohen as a "liar," aiming to undermine his credibility during cross-examination. Trump's lawyers specifically brought up Cohen's 2018 guilty plea for campaign finance violations and lying to Congress about Trump's business activities in Russia, attempting to portray him as an unreliable witness.

Justice Arthur Engoron had previously ruled before the trial started that Trump fraudulently inflated his net worth and ordered the dissolution of key companies within his real estate portfolio. However, this ruling is currently on hold pending an appeal by Trump. The focus of the trial is largely on damages, with Attorney General James seeking at least $250 million in fines and various bans against Trump and his sons from doing business in New York. Last week, Engoron fined Trump $5,000 for violating a gag order related to the case.

Donald Trump, Michael Cohen to face off again at New York fraud trial | Reuters

John Eastman, a conservative law professor and one of Donald Trump's post-election attorneys, is defending himself against disciplinary charges brought by the California State Bar that could result in the loss of his law license. Eastman argues that the charges are based on inaccurate allegations. Specifically, he refutes the claim that Vice President Mike Pence "publicly rejected" his memos advising on how Pence could act if two sets of presidential electors were presented to Congress on January 6, 2021.

According to Eastman, the State Bar misinterprets Pence's 'Dear Colleague' letter and wrongly associates its content with his advice. Eastman also challenges the Bar's claim that he was "grossly negligent" for not knowing that historical records did not support his argument that the vice president could delay the counting of electoral votes. He argues that the drafters of the Constitution explicitly excluded Congress from any decision-making role in presidential elections, leaving the role of the vice president in this context open to interpretation.

Eastman is facing 11 counts related to violating ethics rules, state law, and charges of moral turpitude. These counts are connected to memos he sent to Trump campaign officials, his media appearances, and statements made ahead of the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021. Separately, Eastman also faces charges in Fulton County, Georgia, for plotting to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, to which he has pleaded not guilty.

In his defense, Eastman claims he is being penalized for representing unpopular viewpoints and maintains that election irregularities cost Trump the presidency. The State Bar has completed its case against him, and the hearing will resume on October 30 for further examination and cross-examination. Closing arguments are scheduled for November 3, and post-trial briefs are due by November 22.

The final decision on Eastman’s law license will ultimately be made by the California Supreme Court. A federal judge in California had previously stated that it was "more likely than not" that Eastman and Trump had engaged in criminal conduct, and Eastman has also been referred to the Department of Justice by the January 6 congressional committee.

Eastman Disputes Facts Underpinning Charges in State Bar Trial

A bipartisan coalition of 18 state attorneys general, led by Connecticut, is supporting two minor league baseball teams in their challenge against Major League Baseball's (MLB) long-standing antitrust exemption. The Tri-City ValleyCats in New York and the Connecticut-based Norwich Sea Unicorns filed the case, arguing that MLB's 2020 decision to reduce the number of minor league teams that can affiliate with major league clubs was anticompetitive. This move led to the elimination of dozens of minor league teams and capped the number of affiliations at four per major league club.

Historically, a series of rulings since 1922 have exempted baseball from federal antitrust laws, claiming the sport involved "purely state affairs." The state attorneys general, however, contend that this premise was factually incorrect even in 1922, as baseball was already a national business at that time. Their legal brief argues that states have "regularly enforced their antitrust laws against corporations and cartels whose business crosses state lines," and thus, MLB should not enjoy such an exemption.

The New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of the lawsuit earlier, citing MLB's antitrust exemption. Lawyers for MLB have previously called the antitrust claims "patently frivolous," stating that the lawsuit aims to "impose liability on MLB for not renewing plaintiffs' contracts."

The state coalition's filing is among several amicus briefs submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court, including support from the professional baseball players union. MLB has yet to file a response to the petition asking the Supreme Court to hear the case.

Bipartisan state coalition backs challenge to MLB's antitrust immunity | Reuters

Baseball’s Antitrust Exemption: A Brief Primer

A pending National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) case is set to determine if NCAA student athletes should be classified as employees under federal labor law. The case focuses on football and basketball players from the University of Southern California and the Pac-12 Conference and questions whether they were wrongly classified as "non-employee student-athletes." Legal experts warn that recognizing student athletes as employees would open a "Pandora’s box" of legal complications, particularly for smaller colleges that may struggle with the financial implications.

The move to classify student athletes as employees is part of a broader effort by labor advocates. It comes after a 2021 US Supreme Court ruling that the NCAA violated federal antitrust laws by preventing athletes from profiting from their name, image, and likeness. If athletes are classified as employees, they would likely seek to unionize, adding further complexities as to who must bargain with them.

The issue also has implications for Title IX, as it could raise questions about equal educational opportunities if male athletes start getting paid as employees. The case could redefine the bargaining units as well, potentially designating entire athletic conferences as employers. Financially smaller schools may find it difficult to compete if they have to start paying athletes, possibly leading to greater consolidation in college sports. The NLRB's decision in this case could fundamentally change the landscape of college sports and has wider implications for labor laws and educational policies.

NCAA Student Athletes as Employees Case to Open ‘Pandora’s Box’

In my column this week, I argue that tax law is often seen as inaccessible or daunting, a perception that is largely due to how and when most people first encounter the subject. I teach an introductory course on tax theory and policy at Drexel Kline School of Law that aims to dismantle these misconceptions. The course focuses on real-world implications of tax policies and is structured to introduce foundational policy and theoretical knowledge first, followed by classes that tackle specific issues such as tax filing and wealth inequality.

Drexel Kline is unique because it offers an undergraduate degree in law, providing an entry point for talent in the legal profession right out of high school. This contrasts with traditional paths that require a four-year degree and the LSAT for entry. The approach aims to break down the barriers that make fields like tax law appear unapproachable or reserved for those with specialized backgrounds.

Early exposure to tax law can significantly impact students' career trajectories. An undergraduate course demystifies the field, giving students a clearer understanding of what a career in tax could offer. This can diversify the talent pool in the tax profession or, at the very least, create a more tax-savvy public.

The tax profession is currently experiencing a brain drain, which poses a long-term sustainability problem for both the legal and tax fields. Courses like the one I teach at Drexel can serve as blueprints for making education in these areas more inclusive. By lowering entry barriers and challenging preconceived notions held by gatekeepers in the field, we can create a more robust, diverse, and dynamic applicant pool.

I conclude that educational institutions and professional bodies need to proactively adopt early-intervention programs like Drexel's to ensure a more equitable and informed future in the fields of law and taxation.

Introduce Tax to Students Early to Boost Tax Talent Pipeline

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