Minimum Competence - Daily Legal News Podcast
Minimum Competence
Weds 6/21 - Big Law Partner to Traffic Court Judge, Disciplinary Proceedings Against Eastman, Alito Nonsense, Coinbase Interesting Tactic

Weds 6/21 - Big Law Partner to Traffic Court Judge, Disciplinary Proceedings Against Eastman, Alito Nonsense, Coinbase Interesting Tactic

We have a Quinn Emanuel partner moving to traffic court, disciplinary proceedings against Trump lawyer Eastman, Alito writes nonsense in the WSJ and Coinbase with a strange defense.

On this day, June 21st, in legal history, flag burning was held to be protected by the First Amendment when the Supreme Court decision was handed down in Texas v. Johnson

In the case of Texas v. Johnson, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that a Texas flag desecration law violated the First Amendment. The case revolved around Gregory Lee Johnson, who burned a U.S. flag during protests at the 1984 Republican National Convention. He was charged under a Texas law criminalizing flag desecration, but his conviction was overturned by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, leading to an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Justice William J. Brennan Jr., writing for the majority, argued that expressive conduct, including flag burning, is protected by the First Amendment. The Court rejected Texas' argument that it was trying to prevent breaches of the peace and protect the flag as a symbol of nationhood. Brennan emphasized that the government cannot ban expression simply because it may provoke violence or is disagreeable, as such expression lies at the core of First Amendment values.

In dissent, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice John Paul Stevens focused on the value of the flag. Rehnquist likened flag burning to "fighting words," while Stevens expressed concern about the potential devaluation of the flag's symbolic nature.

The Supreme Court reaffirmed the Texas v. Johnson decision a year later in United States v. Eichman (1990) by striking down the Flag Protection Act of 1989, which was enacted in response to the earlier ruling. Since then, flag burning has been a contentious issue, with repeated attempts in Congress to overturn the Court's decision through a constitutional amendment. However, these attempts have fallen short of the required votes.

Stephen Swedlow, a former partner at Quinn Emanuel, made a somewhat surprising career move by leaving the prestigious Big Law firm to become a traffic court judge in Cook County, Illinois. Swedlow, who had a successful career handling major litigation cases and earning millions of dollars, decided to pursue public service and put his skills to use in the judiciary. Partners at top law firms typically stay until retirement, but Swedlow chose to step down and invest nearly $1 million of his own money to serve as a judge at the lowest levels of the state's judiciary.

In his new role, Swedlow presides over DUI trials and traffic violations, handling as many as 300 cases a day, mostly through Zoom. Despite the change from high-profile billion-dollar court fights to the less glamorous traffic court, Swedlow finds fulfillment in the human drama and the opportunity to contribute to the legal system. He has adjusted to the administrative tasks involved in organizing Zoom meetings and managing the proceedings.

During his time at Quinn Emanuel, Swedlow led significant cases, including defending Qualcomm against Apple in a trade secrets lawsuit and representing health insurance companies in a suit over unpaid Obamacare subsidies. The firm could potentially earn $185 million in fees from one of Swedlow's cases, but the final payment is pending appeals.

Swedlow's decision to transition to the bench surprised some colleagues, but he expressed a desire for a better work-life balance and more time with his children. Despite the substantial pay cut, he felt he had already made enough money and was ready for a new challenge in public service. Swedlow hopes to become a civil trial court judge in the future, but for now, he is working his way up the judicial ladder, handling small claims, personal injury, and eviction cases.

This story is offered here just as an example of a potential landing place for folks looking to make a move. 

Top Quinn Emanuel Partner Starts Over as Traffic Court Judge

Disciplinary proceedings have begun against John Eastman, the lawyer behind former President Donald Trump's attempt to overturn the 2020 election. Eastman faces 11 disciplinary charges related to his development of a controversial legal strategy aimed at helping Trump stay in power by disrupting the counting of state electoral votes. The strategy involved encouraging Vice President Mike Pence to consider slates of electors filed by pro-Trump activists in seven states, even though no legislatures had adopted Eastman's plan. Pence's aides strongly resisted the plan, arguing that he lacked the legal authority and warning that courts would not uphold it.

Eastman's plan was designed to avoid going to court and instead relied on key actors asserting their power to carry out the preferred actions. He argues that his advice was a tenable interpretation of the law and that a good-faith dispute should not result in professional consequences. During the proceedings, Eastman defended his claims of voter fraud in Georgia and his suggestion that the 2020 election in Wisconsin could be decertified and Joe Biden removed. Despite the chaos that ensued, Eastman expressed no regret or misgivings about his actions.

The disciplinary proceedings could potentially result in Eastman losing his license to practice law in California.

John Eastman's plan to keep Trump in power faces a reckoning, as authorities seek his disbarment - POLITICO

Trump Lawyer Eastman’s License in Jeopardy at Disciplinary Trial

Conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito has written a commentary in the Wall Street Journal purporting to defend himself against allegations of ethical misconduct raised by news outlet ProPublica. 

Alito addressed the "charges" made by ProPublica journalists that he failed to recuse himself from cases involving entities connected to hedge fund founder Paul Singer and failed to report certain gifts on mandatory financial disclosure forms. Alito dismissed both charges as invalid. 

He explained that the private flight to Alaska, which took place in 2008, was provided by Singer, who allowed him to occupy an unoccupied seat. A moment's reflection reveals this to be a nonsensical statement – of course the seat was unoccupied, what is the alternative, he sat on Singer’s lap for the ride? Does it only give the appearance of impropriety if someone was booted from the seat in favor of Alito? 

Alito stated that he stayed in a modest one-room unit at the King Salmon Lodge and considered accommodations and transportation for social events as non-reportable gifts, as commonly interpreted by justices. He further stated that he only carried on conversations with Singer a handful of times at events attended by other people as well, like dinner parties. He emphasized that the flight to Alaska was the only instance where he accepted transportation for a purely social event. Alito asserted that he had no obligation to recuse himself from cases connected to Singer and claimed he was unaware of Singer's connection in a particular case heard by the Supreme Court in 2014. 

The court has faced ethics controversies recently, and public confidence in the judiciary has declined according to opinion polls.

US Supreme Court's Alito defends against ethics questions | Reuters

Justice Samuel Alito: ProPublica Misleads Its Readers - WSJ

Justice Samuel Alito Took Luxury Fishing Vacation With GOP Billionaire Who Later Had Cases Before the Court

Coinbase, the prominent cryptocurrency exchange, launched a unique legal defense strategy months before it became the target of a major crackdown by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The company filed briefs as amicus curiae, or "friend of the court," in two other crypto-related lawsuits brought by the SEC, aiming to shape court rulings on key legal questions that are now central to its own case. While amicus briefs are common at the U.S. Supreme Court, they are filed in only 0.1% of cases in federal trial courts. Coinbase's strategy involved trying to influence legal precedents in its favor, even though the rulings in those cases would not be binding in its own lawsuit. The company argued that the SEC lacks authority to regulate certain digital assets as securities and criticized the SEC's misapplication of the legal test for determining securities status. Coinbase also contended that the SEC failed to provide clear guidelines, violating participants' right to due process. The SEC recently sued Coinbase, alleging that it operated an unregistered exchange and offered securities without proper registration. Coinbase's legal push reflects the industry's efforts to shape the regulatory landscape and establish favorable legal interpretations for cryptocurrencies.

Coinbase waged unusual legal defense ahead of SEC's crypto crackdown | 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