Punishments for Crimes through the ages – from the bizarre to outrageous, from the sublime to the ridiculous. We don’t know how lucky we are!
Many of us are apt to complain about sentences handed out by our Courts for crimes these days – too harsh, too lenient. But a quick look at some punishments for crimes through the ages, including in some countries today, we should really consider how much we really have to complain about.
Not only have punishments been truly shocking (and in some instances still are), but even some of the crimes are truly unbelievable.
Many Sydney criminal lawyers would have had their work cut out for them if some of these historical crimes were still on the statute books! Lucky for us that our complaints about the justice systems these days are limited to whether an offender should be given a jail sentence or community service, or whether a 2 year sentence is sufficient or whether 5 would have been better, and so on.
Thank goodness we don’t have to contend with crimes for which the penalty is being tortured to death by some truly unimaginable means. Criminal lawyers in Australia, as in Europe, the United States, Canada, New Zealand and others, these days don’t have to plead for the type of mercy that offenders of times gone by had to. And of course, some of these barbaric practices do still exist today in other parts of the globe, as you can see below.
Some Crimes and Some Punishments You Won’t Believe
A trademark lawsuit filed against audio-chat app Clubhouse raised questions about whether the company sought to protect its name via a US trademark.
“It is interesting that Clubhouse, a company valued at $4 billion, has no registered trademark and appears not to have even applied for registration in the US,” said Christine Haight Farley, a professor at American University Washington College of Law.
Alpha Exploration Co., which launched the invite-only Clubhouse app last spring, was issued a summons last week, according to court documents.
SBS Consulting Group said in its complaint that the Clubhouse app infringed on the trademark it received for “TheClubhouse,” a networking site for sports business professionals.
The complaint sought a trial and damages. It also sought to bar Alpha Exploration Co. from using the name for its app.
The complaint, filed in US district court in Arizona, said the overlap between the two services included both content and features.
The sports consulting firm’s website listed more than a hundred clients at the NBA, MLB, NHL, and other pro sports leagues. Its complaint included screenshots of the Clubhouse app, which had rooms titled “Pro Sports Network” and “Sports Biz Professionals.”
“Included in AEC’s ‘CLUBHOUSE’ topics of interests and clubs are a variety of networking, career growth, and sports business categories selections,” the complaint said.
The Chicago law firm representing SBS Consulting Group declined to comment on the complaint. Clubhouse didn’t respond to a request for comment.Clubhouse downloads skyrocketed this year, hitting 9.6 million in February, before declining in the months since, according to Sensor Tower. Last week, it launched an Android version of its app.
It’s common for a quickly growing company like Clubhouse to attract lawsuits, some of which may be opportunistic or without merit, said Michael Atkins, a Seattle trademark lawyer, who teaches at the University of Washington School of Law.
SBS Consulting Group launched its “TheClubhouse” site in November 2018. It filed its registration for “THECLUBHOUSE” in May 2019 and the trademark was granted in December of that year. On its website, the name is styled as “theClubhouse.”
Because the Clubhouse app was the second to the market with its Clubhouse name, the case will center on whether there was the possibility for “reverse confusion.” That’s when a smaller company trademarks its name, which subsequently gets confused by consumers with a newer, bigger rival.
“By flooding the market with advertising and superior name recognition, it really deprives the first mover of the ability to exploit and grow their trademark, because everyone now is thinking that their trademark is the more well-known company’s trademark,” Atkins said via phone from Spain, where he’s waiting out the COVID-19 pandemic.
The complaint noted that Alpha Exploration Co. hadn’t submitted an application for its name. It added that the company’s executives would have found SBS Consulting Group’s trademark if they had searched the government’s trademark database.
In addition, the complaint said Alpha Exploration Co. seemed to have either “willfully blinded itself” or “acted willfully and intentionally” to infringe on the trademark.
Experts who spoke to Insider were undecided on whether the complaint from SBS Consulting Group had merit.
“On the one hand, these two companies seem like they have some plausible overlap in terms of their services,” said Mark P. McKenna, a professor at Notre Dame Law School.
He added: “On the other hand, ‘TheClubhouse’ seems like a pretty weak mark to me — there are a lot of companies using some version of ‘clubhouse’ for different kinds of things, so we’d need to think the conflict between these two was pretty significant for there to be a claim.”
Haight Farley, of American University, said the SBS Consulting Group’s trademark was the “most problematic” of several “clubhouse” trademarks, because their products had the most in common with the Clubhouse app.
“Essentially, each company provides a digital space for users to meet,” she said. “But beyond that the similarities end.”
Atkins compared the lawsuit with a landmark “reverse confusion” case from the 1990s, when A&H Sportswear Co. successfully sued bigger rival Victoria’s Secret. The smaller company made Miraclesuit swimwear. It argued that Victoria’s Secret had infringed on its trademark with products like The Miracle Bra.
“They might be hoping for a payday to make that problem go away for Clubhouse,” Atkins said. “Also, it could be legitimate in terms of that reverse confusion scenario.”
It’s not too late for Clubhouse to file for its own trademark, he added.
A year ago, the pandemic thrust a public health crisis and widespread layoffs onto an American working class already burdened by decades of rising economic inequality and eroding protections on the job.
Months later, George Floyd’s murder forced the country to once again reckon with its extensive racial disparities, which pervade American workplaces as well.
Americans have grown increasingly critical of the power executives and shareholders wield over rank-and-file workers, a shift accelerated by the pandemic. At 65%, Americans’ approval of labor unions hasn’t been higher since 2003, according to Gallup; 62% support a $15 federal minimum wage, according to Pew.
But whether workers ultimately secure better pay, working conditions, and a voice at work depends on thousands of government officials not named Joe Biden, spread across dozens of federal, state, and local government agencies, legislative bodies, and courts.
Insider identified 80 officials poised to redefine American workplaces, with the goal of shedding light on this sprawling bureaucracy.
We’ve sorted them into four categories:
Lawmakers writing laws and holding employers accountable through congressional hearings.
Advisors influencing Biden’s policies and priorities.
Regulators implementing and enforcing those laws and policies.
Judges resolving disputes about them.
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Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are familiar names. Others prioritizing labor issues include Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) — who introduced the PRO Act — and labor caucus co-chair Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), who blasted Amazon over its workers peeing in bottles.
But Republicans’ solidly pro-business voting record means many bills will need support from moderate Senate Democrats, specifically: Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), and Mark Warner (D-VA).
State and local lawmakers tackling labor issues in their own backyards include AB-5 author and California Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, and New York state senator and labor committee chair Jessica Ramos, who secured $2.1 billion for 500,000 workers excluded from other pandemic relief.
While regulators and lawmakers both play key roles in shaping policy, Insider distinguished officials specifically appointed to advise Biden and his cabinet — those who will help guide the administration’s overall philosophy on labor issues.
Regulators charged with enforcing labor laws are particularly important, as their decisions often have immediate and direct consequences for workers.
David Weil, Biden’s reported nominee to lead the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, which enforces minimum wage and overtime pay laws and would play a key role in regulating “gig” companies. That could be good news for rideshare drivers, as Weil has long accused Uber and Lyft of relying on cheap contract labor and argued for expanding employment protections to gig workers.
Labor Secretary Marty Walsh has also said he believes most gig workers should be classified as employees.
Biden’s nominee to the Federal Trade Commission, Columbia University law professor Lina Khan, has pushed for more aggressive antitrust enforcement and breaking up tech companies. Curbing anticompetitive practices by employers could benefit workers as companies are forced to compete harder for their labor.
State and local attorneys general, district attorneys, and labor departments have also become active in enforcing labor laws, particularly during the Trump era. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is cracking down on employers’ violations of wage theft laws, which could be costing the state’s workers $12 million per year, while Steven Marchese, the director of Seattle’s Office of Labor Standards, has already secured $470,000 from companies to settle claims they violated the city’s pandemic sick pay law.
According to Harvard University’s Terri Gerstein, since 2015, seven state attorneys general offices have spun up teams dedicated to protecting worker rights: Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Similar efforts already exist in California, Massachusetts, and New York. These efforts could also lead to more multistate collaboration, which gives regulators more leverage against corporations who can spend big to fight litigation.
Contentious cases are sometimes escalated to a federal appellate court, which can issue rulings that set precedents for other courts within its jurisdiction. This ripple effect makes the District of Columbia Circuit and 9th Circuit appellate courts particularly relevant.
The DC Circuit — which consists of six judges appointed by Democrats, four appointed by Republicans, and one nominated by Biden who’s awaiting Senate confirmation — gets the final word on cases involving many federal agency decisions and aspects of labor law, giving its judges outsize influence. The 9th Circuit — also with a majority of judges appointed by Democrats — includes California, so it sees many cases involving tech companies, which have increasingly become targets of labor and antitrust lawsuits.
A tiny fraction of cases make it to the Supreme Court, where the Trump-appointed Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett are worth watching — if only because they haven’t been there long enough to solidify their track record on labor cases (though both Kavanaugh and Barrett previously leaned pro-business).
Three former Lambda School students are taking legal action against the coding bootcamp over accusations that it misrepresented its job placement rate, according to the National Student Legal Defense Network, which filed arbitration cases on their behalf on Thursday.
Lambda School, which has raised $129.53 million from investors like GV (formerly Google Ventures), Stripe, and Ashton Kutcher, is known as a pioneer of the income sharing agreement (or ISA) model, where students can participate in a coding bootcamp without any upfront fees.
Now, three former students say that Lambda overstated the success of its alumni: They say the school misrepresented its job placement rates in 2018 and 2019 and are asking for their ISAs to be canceled and for refunds of payments they’ve already made.
“Each of the clients feel they’ve been lied to, and they’re beholden to this ISA,” Alex Elson, senior counsel and cofounder at National Student Legal Defense Network, told Insider.
The arbitration filings said that Lambda School advertised that its job placement rate was above 80%, but told investors that it had only a 50% placement rate, New York Magazine reported in February 2020. Following the New York Magazine story, Lambda School CEO Austin Allred published a blog post that said that while the 50% hiring rate was “technically accurate” it measured the percent of enrolled students (versus graduates) who were hired.
“The company knew the representations were false, went ahead and broadcasted them to the world anyway,” Elson said.
Meanwhile, the three students say that the high job placement rate on Lambda School’s website was critical to their decision to enroll and take out an ISA, the arbitration filings said. Two of the students are not employed, while one found a job independently of the school, Elson said.
A Lambda School spokesperson said in a statement that it had a policy against discussing individual situations in detail publicly, but would review the cases:
“In general, though, for any student’s ISA payments to be activated, they would have first signed an ISA contract and subsequently landed a role leveraging skills learned at Lambda School that pays $50K or more in salary,” the spokesperson said (see full comments at the end of the piece).
In a recent outcomes report, Lambda School said that out of 743 students who planned to graduate in the second half of 2019, 202 students withdrew, 2 graduated early, 300 graduated on time, and 214 graduated later. Out of the 300 students who graduated on time, 234 were job seeking and 217 found jobs. The success rate varies greatly depending on how one interprets those numbers.
“There are tons of examples of for-profit schools — that are almost always predatory — that inflate those statistics,” Elson said.
The National Student Legal Defense Network said it’s filing arbitration cases rather than class action lawsuits because Lambda School’s contract only allows arbitration, in which any settlement is done outside of court.
Lambda School was operating without approval in California
The three students also brought up in their cases that Lambda School had been operating without approval from California’s Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE) until August 2020. While the BPPE ordered it to stop its advertising and cease operations in March 2019, Lambda School continued to enroll students and operate, Insider previously reported.
The students claim in the arbitration filings that if they had been aware that Lambda School was operating illegally in 2019 and that its legal future was uncertain, they would have looked into other options for learning web development.
Lambda School ultimately did receive approval last year, with the caveat that it cannot offer ISA to California students. Now, Lambda School offers California students Retail Installment Contracts, which allow students to defer tuition until they get a job making $50,000 or more, but requires them to pay back the full $30,000 eventually, regardless of how many years it takes.
The former students in their arbitration filings also accused Lambda School of not disclosing to students that it would sell ISAs to investors and hedge funds before students obtain employment. In 2019, Lambda partnered with Edly, which helps schools sell ISAs to accredited investors, although it removed all references to that partnership following reports of the relationship.
The former students also complained that the curriculum was “constantly in flux” and mostly consisted of publicly available materials online, while instructors “had limited knowledge of the curriculum and struggled to keep up with the frequent changes.” Other current and former students previously shared similar accusations with Insider.
The National Student Legal Defense Network is still receiving complaints about Lambda School
Elson says the National Student Legal Defense Network got involved in this case because several former Lambda School students reached out — and that additional students are still coming forward with new issues, some of which are also included in the arbitration filings.
For example, the firm recently received complaints about the school’s so-called “team leads” program which allowed students to get paid to essentially become teaching assistants and mentors to other students. However, in the arbitration filings filed on Thursday, students allege that last September, Lambda School said it would eliminate this program and instead require all students to mentor each other and grade each other’s own work.
This was a “lower-cost model” that harms students, according to the arbitration filings.
“Students were furious by the change,” Elson said. “They had to mentor each other. No one was grading their work anymore. It was really a free-for-all and complaints escalated at that point in time.”
Lambda School says that students practice giving and receiving feedback, interviewing, and talking about their code for teaching purposes, but not for grades, and instructors continue to review work and provide “intervention to review work based on mastery.”
The filings detailed complaints from other students, including that Lambda “has screwed over ALL of its current students and staff and both are leaving in droves,” and that it “wasn’t good when I went starting in early 2020, and it only got worse over time.”
Elson says the firm hopes to “chart this path” for other wronged students to come forward.
“We believe there are many others entitled to the same relief,” Elson said. “Our clients are taking the brave first leap here to hold Lambda accountable. Their hope and ours is this sets a path forward for others to get the same relief.”
Here’s Lambda School’s full statement:
Per policy, we don’t speak about individual student or alumni situations in detail publicly, but we’re of course happy to review matters directly and will review any cases that are filed. In general, though, for any student’s ISA payments to be activated, they would have first signed an ISA contract and subsequently landed a role leveraging skills learned at Lambda School that pays $50K or more in salary.
Our mission is to de-risk education and expand access to higher paying jobs. For that reason, our ISAs (and RICs in California) are designed with policies that are as flexible and student-centric as possible. That includes our purposely generous proration refund and proration policy for students who decide to leave the program, regardless of tuition payment method. Additionally, if an alumnus loses their job, salary, or is making under $50K a year, their payments are immediately paused. ISAs expire completely after 24 payments or 60 deferred months, even if the total paid is less than $30,000.
Our number one priority is student success. We stand behind the quality of our instructors and our proven student outcomes (which we go into more detail about here and in our outcomes reporting). While we will always strive for our students and alumni to have a positive experience and achieve their career goals, we’re also willing to work with individuals and review cases to come to a resolution.
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Growth equity giant General Atlantic, which has invested in buzzy fintech startups like Albert and Chime, made its first foray into legal tech in February, leading the $35 million Series B of Evisort, a contract life cycle management company.
“Prior to COVID, the legal landscape was a traditional, paper-based industry ripe for disruption,” said Alex Crisses, a managing director at the firm. “We see the automation of contract management and the utilization of AI in a legal tech capacity as one of the great themes of 2021 and beyond.”
General Atlantic looks for investments in technology that are “highly differentiated,” Crisses told Insider. Crisses said Evisort’s tech covers a wide range of use cases, can be speedily implemented, and ultimately delivers strong return on investment. “This is a classic space for AI disruption,” he said.
Hg, a specialist private equity investor focused on software and service businesses, has made 11 investments in the legal and regulatory compliance tech space across Europe and North America, with over $1.8 billion invested in the sector to date. Current big-name investments in the legal tech space include Litera, a legal workflow software company, and Mitratech, a legal management system.
Legal tech is “critical” given “how litigious” the market is, said Ben Meyer, a partner at Hg. The US has an approximately $500 billion legal spend market, with law firms in particular shelling out around $5 billion per year on IT, according to Meyer.
Hg’s investment strategy is to identify a “sub-niche” and then to build a leader in that sub-niche. In June 2019, for instance, Hg bought Litera, with plans to invest $42 million in the company. At the time, Litera was a “skilled player” in law firm document workflow, collaboration, and data management solutions. “But that sub-niche was very fragmented with a lot of different point solutions, and it was complex and frustrating for CIOs,” said Meyer. “We took the approach of: Is there an ability to act on behalf of the CIO and stitch these point solutions together into a consolidated platform?”
Vista Credit Partners made waves in the legal tech community when it led Rocket Lawyer’s $223 million growth capital financing in April. Rocket Lawyer provides small- to medium-sized businesses with online legal services like contract review and real estate agreement. Vista decided to invest because the company offers a “highly differentiated product, compelling growth characteristics, attractive unit economics, and an incredible value proposition,” David Flannery, president of Vista Credit Partners, told Insider.
Vista has also invested in Mitratech, a legal and compliance platform; Aderant Holdings, a business management software platform for law firms; and Zapproved, an ediscovery software for in-house counsel.
In addition to legal service procurement companies like Rocket Lawyer, Flannery said he is especially bullish on ediscovery, which “has long been a time- and services-heavy proposition. With advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning, we’re seeing the e-discovery ecosystem change rapidly.”
Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan
Legal tech investments: Mitratech
Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, the largest single-profession pension plan in Canada, acquired a majority stake in Mitratech, an end-to-end legal and compliance software platform, in March for an undisclosed amount.
“Enterprise software has been a key focus area for our technology sector team,” said Karen Frank, Ontario Teachers’ global head of equities. “We continue to focus on new and emerging sub-sectors within enterprise software…legal tech solutions are often critical for the success of the enterprise.”
Frank saidMitratech “stood out” for its scale, product suite, and potential for accelerated organic and inorganic growth. Since Ontario Teachers’ investment, Mitratech has added two companies to its ever-growing platform: AdvanceLaw, a marketplace for general counsel, and ContractRoom, a contract life cycle management provider.
Legal tech investments: Relativity
Silver Lake made waves in the legal tech space in March when it became ediscovery giant Relativity’s largest shareholder, valuing the company at $3.6 billion. The details of the deal, including the size of Silver Lake’s investment, were not disclosed.
“Relativity is not only the clear leader in software for the legal sector, but also an increasingly strategic company in enterprise technology generally,” said Joe Osnoss, managing partner of Silver Lake, in the press release when the deal was announced.
The strategic investment was aimed to help Relativity “accelerate” its offerings to the Am Law 200 firms, according to the release. Relativity is Silver Lake’s only legal tech investment so far. The firm declined to comment for this story.
The private equity team at the investment firm GI Partners invests primarily in healthcare, IT infrastructure, services, and software companies. The legal tech space has “software players and services players” that “sit at the nexus of technology,” enabling them to own customer relationships, said Mike Stuppler, a principal at GI Partners.
In 2018, GI Partners bought and merged Consilio, which Stuppler said was third in the ediscovery market at the time, and Advanced Discovery, another ediscovery provider. Before the firm sold Consilio in April this year, it also acquired Discover Ready, further boosting its ediscovery services.
“We’re looking for business that have multiple levers for growth,” like M&A opportunities and product development, Stuppler told Insider. “For ediscovery, we wanted to find a player of scale. The issue was that a lot of the players, like KLDiscovery and Epiq, had already traded hands. So we felt that in order to do it, we had to create it.”
Knox Capital, which targets legal tech and other tech-enabled middle-market companies, has made investments in companies like ediscovery platform HaystackID, and Bundle, an online service that provides real estate legal documents.
“The legal tech market has all of the characteristics that investors look for. It’s a smaller version of healthcare tech and fintech,” said Mike Bryant, a partner at Knox Capital. “As you study the market, you realize how big the problem is to be solved — how big the legal market is.”
When it comes to investing strategies, Knox Capital’s is to catch a company that’s “growing — maybe not currently a pace they feel they can grow at — is generally profitable, and intuitively know they need help to get to the next level, whether it’s through capital, M&A, or global expansion,” said Bryant. After the firm invested in HaystackID in 2017, for instance, Knox Capital helped the company acquire three companies, enabling it to expand from $15 million to $75 million in revenue.
K1 Investment Management invests in enterprise software companies. In January, it gave $200 million to Reveal, an AI-powered ediscovery platform, which had just merged with Brainspace, a visual analytics platform used for digital investigations.
“The ediscovery market is undergoing rapid change and K1 is excited to partner with the Reveal and Brainspace teams to create the category leader in the industry,” said Tarun Jain, vice president at K1, in a statement.
Wendell Jisa, the CEO of Reveal, previously told Insider that it planned to use the capital to boost hiring and make more acquisitions.
K1 has also fueled the growth of other legal tech companies like Onit, an enterprise workflow platform that snapped up $200 million from the PE firm in January 2019. The firm also bought Litera in July 2016 before selling it to Hg for an undisclosed amount in May 2019. During its three years with K1, Litera tripled its revenue and more than doubled its product portfolio, according to the company’s statement. K1 did not respond to requests for comment.
Legal tech investments: Mitratech, LegalZoom, Eclipse Legal Systems, Acuity ELM
TA Associates has invested in several prominent legal tech companies, including LegalZoom, an online platform that connects small businesses and consumers to legal services, and Mitratech, which it held a minority interest in before selling it to Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan in March.
The PE firm had “been tracking the evolution of the entire legal software market for years and the strategic expansion of the General Counsel’s role in particular,” said Hythem El-Nazer, a director at TA Associates, in the press release announcing its original investment in Mitratech in 2015.
The firm did not respond to requests for comment.
Leeds Equity Partners
Legal tech investments: Exterro
Leeds Equity Partners invests exclusively in what it calls “knowledge industries,” including software and information services. To date, it’s deployed $2.7 billion, according to its website. In 2018, the firm invested an undisclosed amount in Exterro, an ediscovery and information governance software platform used by Visa and American Express.
Since receiving Leeds’ investment, Exterro has grown its business by acquiring the digital forensics firm AccessData in December 2020, and is now eyeing a “unicorn” IPO, Exterro’s founder previously told Insider.
“Given Exterro’s history of product innovation, differentiated market position and strong financial growth profile, we are excited about the opportunity to accelerate our investment in product innovation and meeting the ever changing needs of our customers in new and differentiated ways,” said Kevin Malone, principal at Leeds Equity, in a press release announcing the acquisition.
Nancy Chemtob is a 56-year-old partner at Chemtob, Moss, Forman & Beyda and one of New York City’s premier divorce attorneys. Her focus is elite divorces, for those with $15 million in assets or more — past clients have included Diandra Douglas, Michael Douglas’ now ex-wife, and Stephanie Madoff, the daughter-in-law of the Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff.
She holds a bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Miami. Brought up in a family of lawyers, she was drawn to matrimonial law while in law school after representing women who were convicted of killing their abusers.
She founded her firm in 2002 with Susan Moss, a lawyer whom she met when they represented opposing parties in a divorce case three years earlier.
Chemtob isn’t fazed by complex legal and emotional issues — she worked on the first same-sex divorce case in New York, for example.
She told Insider she charges $960 an hour and is busier than ever, estimating that inquiries at the firm have surged by almost one-third as a result of the pandemic.
Wealthy couples faced a distinct challenge during lockdowns. They were often not used to spending extended periods of time together, which resulted in friction that has been a boon for Chemtob’s business.
Chemtob lives in the West Village neighborhood of Manhattan with her second husband, Michael.
“My divorce really helped me with my clients — now when they say, ‘Wow, it’s so expensive.’ I tell them, ‘I know. I paid a fortune,'” she said.
COVID-19 turned much of her in-person work virtual, but her routine is slowly returning to normal — here’s how a typical day unfolds.
She wakes up not once but twice every morning
“I’m a horrible sleeper, so I wake up around 3 a.m. and start reading interesting things on my computer — art auctions, maybe, or StreetEasy. I feel like I’m a real-estate broker sometimes because I have to know that much,” she said. Both these areas are regularly contentious in divorces.
She cited one split in which the couple had an $18 million home in Manhattan and an $8 million Hamptons country house. As a result of the pandemic, the values of each property flipped — and so did the negotiations around dividing the spoils.
Likewise, another client contested the prenup she signed with her husband, which protected his Andy Warhol collection should they divorce. It stipulated that he could retain not only the artwork he brought into the union but also any additional Warhols he acquired while married. Chemtob’s client insisted that, since marital money had been used for the latter, she was entitled to reimbursement. Chemtob said she secured that concession, albeit without appreciation on the value of the pieces.
After her 3 a.m. wake-up, she then goes back to sleep and wake up at 7 a.m., when she’ll meditate.
“It gives me equilibrium to get through the most difficult times. I can’t really react when I have people hysterical, crying, or so anxious. I need to be their rock,” she said.
Her husband brings coffee to her in bed and then she’ll weigh herself, as will Michael. “I’m at the point where we now write it on a chart, and both decide we’re fat,” and start dieting again, she said.
Her secret to weathering an overwhelming schedule? An old-fashioned paper planner.
Chemtob drives to her office on Madison Avenue and 54th Street to meet with her assistant, who’ll greet her with more coffee and a little fresh fruit, before going through the day’s schedule. She has a paper day planner that she’s used since starting out as a lawyer and updates it the old-fashioned way, with Wite-Out.
One thing Chemtob can’t control: court appointments. In pre-pandemic times, she said, a 9.30 a.m. meeting with a judge could last 30 minutes or drag on throughout the day. Such sessions are now conducted virtually.
“We have to work just as hard, but it’s one of the biggest downfalls of the pandemic that you’re not there in person rolling up your sleeves,” she said.
Her morning could include meeting with new clients, like one middle-age woman who left her agog. “She was nice, sweet, a little heavy — the kind of person who looked like she’d offer to go get you coffee,” Chemtob said.
She didn’t think she could contest her husband’s petition for divorce “because she said she was a well-known dominatrix in her community, and her secret life was going to be found out if we fought that hard for custody,” Chemtob said, adding: “She knew she wouldn’t win.”
Then again, it could be someone like the wealthy Manhattan resident who arrived, flustered, and sought Chemtob’s counsel: She’d just discovered that her husband had spent the past five years splitting time between their marital home and a secret apartment in SoHo he shared with his boyfriend.
Early in her career, Chemtob said, she second-guessed herself after agreeing to work with a particular man. At their first meeting, he warned her that she should never walk into a room if there was plastic on the floor.
“Now, where I grew up, that means someone is painting the ceiling,” Chemtob said. “But he meant that it’s easier to clean up a murder scene that way. He was a shady character. Every time I asked him to pay me, he said, ‘What are you going to do if I don’t pay?'”
She often grabs something to eat in between meetings
At 12 p.m., she’ll ask her assistant what the soup of the day is at Casa Lever and then order in for both of them.
While eating, she’ll often use that time to prep for her afternoon, which could include a settlement conference, she said.
“I’m a lion tamer, but in this case, it’s the attorney on the other side who needs to be tamed,” she said. “People like to get into it with me, to see if I’ll fluster or flinch, but I pride myself on my poker face.
“We’re in the customer-service business, and the best job we can do for a client is to get it over with as quickly as possible, with the least amount of money spent.”
Money remains contentious, even when couples have eight figures or more. “I have a client who gets $150,000 per month in support and she calls me all the time to say, ‘I don’t have enough money,’ and I feel for her,” she said. Even when you start with $500 million, she added, “the houses, the household staff, the art, the cars, and the plane — it all adds up.”
She’s proud of the occasions in which she manages to de-escalate divorces at these meetings. Take one client, a wealthy woman who had hired Chemtob to manage her split from her husband, who’d signed a prenup before their marriage.
Initially, they tussled over the watches, the cars, and the property she’d purchased for him — per that agreement, he was required to return everything. “But at the settlement conference, she said, ‘Anything you want, anything you believe is yours? Take it and enjoy it,'” Chemtob said. “They got teary-eyed. They loved each other, but they weren’t meant for each other after that many years.”
Still, Chemtob more often encounters Wars of the Roses–like splits. She worked with one couple who’d agreed to alternate living in the marital apartment every seven days until it was sold, but each would try to needle the other at week’s end. The husband left a copy of “The Art of War” on the kitchen table, Chemtob said, then his soon-to-be ex-wife superglued the kitchen cabinets shut.
Chemtob had to intervene in another split when her client found out his husband was cheating on him and planning to take his new lover with him on a business trip to Europe.
“The husband was going to a really important business meeting as soon as he landed,” she said. So her client “unpacked the bags, cut all the crotches out of his pants and shorts, then repacked it again,” she said, adding: “That’s how upset he was.”
She sometimes has to rush to court for emergency motions
Emergencies can arise that derail Chemtob’s painstakingly planned day and force her to file an emergency motion in court.
Perhaps a woman is shopping at Bergdorf Goodman and calls, hysterical, because her credit cards have stopped working after the bank accounts have been emptied, or a mother discovers her soon-to-be ex-husband is at the doctor seeking ADHD medication for their child.
“Once, a client called me and said, ‘I don’t know what to do because there’s a woman I don’t know sleeping in the room next to me.’ The husband brought a woman home in the middle of the night,” Chemtob said. “So we got an emergency application to ensure exclusive use of the house.”
She was also involved in a high-profile custody and divorce case that dragged on for nine months. One of the mothers, a Briton, was planning to take their adopted child overseas — Chemtob filed an emergency motion to prevent that.
By 6 p.m., no matter what, she’ll ensure she’s ready to leave the office
Chemtob’s fanatical about ending her day promptly, despite whatever unexpected meetings or motions have occurred, at 6 p.m. After a little more meditation, she’ll leave the office.
She adjusted her schedule after a moment with her oldest son when he was in third grade.
“He gave me a calendar and said to me, ‘When are you going to be home for dinner?'” she said. It prompted Chemtob to ensure she was home by 7 p.m. to eat with her family each night and then finish any lingering work after the boys were asleep.
Her sons are now adults — Jack, Oliver, and Spencer, ages 25, 23, and 20, respectively — so Chemtob and her husband will often go out in the evening with friends. Referrals from her social circle are the core of her practice.
“My life is business development, so every night we’re out socially,” she said. “I got a client who was a mohel at a bris I attended, and once I got one when I was in an elevator on vacation.”
Even when they’re home, she might still be working, as with the client who would call her after her husband had attacked her. Chemtob would stay on the phone with her until the police arrived.
“They’re still married, and they’re in the papers all the time, smiling,” she said. “You never know what goes on behind closed doors. That’s the problem with my job: I actually really care, and I have to be there 24/7.”
As digital creators eat up more attention in entertainment, law firms that once focused on representing TV and movie stars are now chasing after YouTubers and TikTokers.
“These clients are so multi-hyphenate, they’re involved in so many different things,” said Ryan Pastorek, an attorney at the law firm Hansen Jacobson, which represents Chamberlain and other top YouTube creators like Lilly Singh and Rhett & Link. “Each talent for the most part in this particular world is its own brand. And so from a brand perspective, you’re building that out on a lot of different fronts, and all of these folks are marketing wizards.”
Working with internet stars poses challenges.
Like traditional-media talent, social-media influencers rely on their lawyers and managers to avoid getting wrapped up in overly restrictive contracts. One area of negotiation is a “morals clause,” which allows a brand or other business partner to walk away from a deal if an influencer’s reputation is tarnished. Some image-conscious influencers demand a similar right if the brand they’re working with gets bad press, according to Allison Fitzpatrick, a lawyer at Davis & Gilbert who works on influencer deals.
The Federal Trade Commission requires advertising and sponsored content to be disclosed, and lawyers help their influencer clients avoid breaking the rules. They also ensure that their creator clients don’t give up the rights to photos, songs, videos, podcasts, fashion designs and other intellectual property that they create — or at least help ensure that clients know what they’re getting into.
Marketing to children, which many influencers do, also has unique legal risks. For example, the US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act puts limits on collecting information from children under 13.
To better understand how influencers are transforming entertainment law, Insider compiled a list of the leading law firms that represent digital creators across YouTube, Instagram, and other social-media platforms. We gathered nominations from readers and spoke to professionals in the influencer and legal industries, considering factors like a firm’s clients, their deal list, and their reputation among talent managers and agents.
The top 13 law firms are listed in alphabetical order:
Ashley Silver got her start at a traditional Hollywood law firm, Bloom Hergott. But when that firm broke up amid a bruising fight with Johnny Depp, Silver and her colleagues launched their own firm, Brecheen Feldman Breimer Silver & Thompson, where she has built what she calls a “one-stop shop” for talent with a major presence both online and offline.
Silver said influencer clients have to act fast to build and monetize their brands, whether it’s by starting a makeup, skincare, or clothing line or by making a lucrative move to traditional media. She said she helps clients protect their brands and ownership of their content while negotiating endorsement, collaboration, and licensing deals.
One major company often inserts “a small little clause in [its contracts] that says you cannot be seen in public buying a competitor brand,” Silver said as an example of one thing she looks out for. “Absolutely not. My client has to be able to go out to CVS and buy toothpaste without breaching a contract.”
Her deals have included representing Tabitha Brown, known for her culinary and lifestyle videos, in the launch of a haircare line and in a deal with Orro, a liquid “mini-meal.” She also represented Jackie Aina in connection with the launch of her line FORVR Mood.
Vejay Lalla is the industry colead in the digital media and entertainment, consumer technologies, and retail practice at Fenwick & West.
Lalla’s team worked on the launch of Animal Capital, a venture capital firm cofounded by TikTok influencers Josh Richards, Griffin Johnson, and Noah Beck. Fenwick supported influencer Arielle Charnas and her brand Something Navy on talent and endorsement deals and building Something Navy’s curated marketplace. And the firm also worked with gamer-training platform Statespace to set up deals with Twitch streamers KingGeorge, SypherPK, and Valkia.
“You’re seeing this very different and growing strategy with talent where they’re not only leveraging their traditional name and likeness in the context of media entertainment and social and digital channels,” Lalla told Insider. “You are seeing this trend with influencers not only farming out their name and likeness rights in traditional entertainment deals, but becoming investors or advisors at companies.”
Frankfurt Kurnit is known for serving clients in media and entertainment. Marcie Cleary has worked with a wide range of clients, including actors, writers, directors, and producers, in streaming, publishing, and television and film deals. She also advises influencers and creators on their brand endorsements and traditional-media engagements.
One of Cleary’s busiest niches has been advising podcast creators and talent in the negotiation of their distribution deals, host agreements, and other contracts. She said she represented Kid Fury and Crissle West in connection with their podcast “The Read” and JJ Redick, of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, for his podcast, “The Old Man and the Three.”
“Legally, it used to be the wild, wild West,” Cleary said of podcasting. “Now, there are norms” around things like revenue splits, talent fees, monetization, and ownership of an episode and intellectual property.
Stephanie Myer is an associate at Gang Tyre Ramer Brown & Passman, where she works on deal negotiations and legal reviews for internet stars like Doctor Mike and TikToker Brittany Broski (Brittany Tomlinson).
Before joining the firm, Myer worked as a talent management assistant at Brillstein Entertainment Partners.
Myer told Insider that influencer contracts can require a greater degree of scrutiny than traditional entertainment deals.
“In film and TV, you’ll get paperwork from a studio and it pretty much looks the same every time,” she said. “The biggest difference in this space is the paperwork that we’re getting and the brands and the agencies that are repping the brands that we’re working with have never been seen before. So we really have to be very meticulous about the paperwork, and there is a lot of education involved with the brand just on basic entertainment law principles.”
Myer is a graduate of the University of Southern California Law School where she studied entertainment law.
Gary Stiffelman started his own law practice last year after leaving a shareholder role at the law firm Greenberg Traurig.
Stiffelman currently works with TikTok’s biggest star, Charli D’Amelio, her sister Dixie, and parents Marc and Heidi on a variety of legal tasks, including negotiating brand deals, content licensing contracts, and building out Dixie’s music career.
“Working with the D’Amelios has been an amazing experience because, as with some of my earlier clients, (Eminem, Prince, Lady Gaga, Death Row Records) we are making a lot of new precedents and paving a new path,” Stiffelman told Insider in a statement.
Earlier in his career, Stiffelman worked on the sale of the Beatles song catalog and represented the buyer of a majority interest in Rolling Stone magazine and its related businesses.
Paige Kaplan, an associate in the Los Angeles office of Greenberg Traurig, has worked with a long roster of creators and other players in the influencer economy. She has also represented traditional television, film, and media talent in their transactions.
Kaplan’s deals have included representations of pint-sized beverage critic Leo Kelly, known on Instagram as @theshirleytempleking, with The Drew Barrymore Show, the Guinness Book of World Records, and BuzzFeed; Carianne Older (@peggyshootsfilm), a photographer, in deals with Interscope and Olivia Rodrigo and Foot Locker; and creator Kennedy Murray on Procter & Gamble’s “Widen the Screen” initiative.
Hertz Lichtenstein Young & Polk: Carron Mitchell and Oswaldo Rossi
Hertz Lichtenstein Young & Polk is an entertainment law firm based in Los Angeles.
Attorneys Carron Mitchell and Oswaldo Rossi work with digital creators, music artists, and other entertainment talent on brand deals and other transactions.
Many of the pair’s clients in the influencer industry focus on music, like the artist DDG who built a following on YouTube before signing a record deal with Epic Records.
“This last year, I’ve seen a rise in the amount of influencer-type deals or endorsement deals or social-media deals because of the pandemic,” Mitchell said, noting that the cancellation of live events had a big impact on the entertainment industry as a whole. “Influencers will sometimes create brands, and we’ll do their licensing deals, getting their product in certain stores, collaborating with other brands and licensing out different rights.”
Before joining Hertz Lichtenstein, Mitchell worked in the IP and transactions group at Nixon Peabody where she coauthored a paper on influencer marketing and FTC endorsement guides with Ellie Heisler. Rossi worked at EMI Music before joining the firm in 2014.
Ryan Pastorek and Adam Kaller were traditional entertainment lawyers working with film and TV clients before they stumbled upon some of the internet’s first stars in 2010.
“In this world, which was much like the wild wild West, we were finding our way through the dark and trying to represent these people against brand new companies who had brand new policies,” Kaller said. “The talent was suddenly some kid who was jumping on a trampoline in the midwest and now he’s a multimillionaire with an A3.”
One of Pastorek’s early clients was Perez Hilton, while Kaller worked with Dane Boedigheimer who created the web series “The Annoying Orange.” The pair built separate businesses working with digital stars before joining up together to work at their current firm, Hansen Jacobson Teller Hoberman Newman Warren Richman Rush Kaller & Gellman, in 2015.
Kaller and Pastorek now work with some of the internet’s biggest stars, including Emma Chamberlain, Lilly Singh, and Rhett & Link. They told Insider that they function as general counsel for influencers while also helping with business development efforts. The pair helped Chamberlain launch her coffee brand, Chamberlain Coffee, and Logan Paul start a clothing line, Maverick, for example.
Ellie Heisler, a partner, and Christina Chang, an associate who Heisler calls her “right hand,” work with entertainment-industry clients from Nixon Peabody’s Los Angeles office. They have represented influencers with major fanbases, including TikTokers Addison Rae and Madi Monroe.
Heisler said she got her start licensing celebrity brands with CMG, where she interned in law school. At the time, reality TV shows like “The Girls Next Door” and “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” were exploding, and Heisler helped some stars protect their brands and generate new revenue streams, she said.
One of Heisler’s earliest clients in social media were Shaun and Mindy McKnight, whose YouTube channel CuteGirlsHairstyles was taking off.
“I was really transparent about the fact that I had no YouTube clients, but I could do these licensing deals in my sleep,” she said. “There weren’t a ton of lawyers in the space who were young, hungry, and understood some of these kinds of emerging platforms.”
Today, her practice has grown to include a mix of actors, models, and other personalities, many with large followings on social media. It also has created work for other lawyers at the firm, like when Emily Ratajkowski got sucked into the Fyre Fest bankruptcy case because of her work for the festival’s promoters.
Ed Kaufman is general counsel at Pocket.watch, a kids-entertainment company that builds creator-led franchises starring child stars, including YouTube’s highest-earning creator, Ryan Kaji. Together with Pocket.watch, Kaji generated more than $200 million in retail sales from branded products in 2019, according to a family spokesperson.
In addition to their presence on digital platforms like YouTube, Pocket.watch franchise stars have appeared on Nickelodeon shows and sold toys featuring their likenesses in stores like Walmart and Target.
As the lead attorney at Pocket.watch, Kaufman oversees all of the company’s legal matters in connection with its roster of young internet stars.
Like many lawyers at Rothenberg Mohr & Binder, Kevin Eskowitz has a history of representing musicians. As some singers and instrumentalists have turned success on YouTube into record deals, though, he has ridden the wave.
Eskowitz has helped clients with huge online fanbases negotiate record deals and leverage their fame around the world. He said he first realized the power of social-media fandom when he was at a Digitour event in the early 2010s.
“Kids were convulsing, crying, huddled with each other, because they were so overwhelmed with emotion because they were seeing their favorite YouTubers or whatever digital stars in person,” he said. “I remember a lightbulb clicking and handing out my business cards to all these managers.”
Eventually, those managers started calling him. The work varied widely; one day, a YouTuber who posted candy videos would reach out about a two-page, $250,000 contract they’d been offered. The next day, a “baby band” client would send along an antiquated, 70-page music-industry contract worth virtually nothing that took two months to finish negotiating.
“When you’re working in an emerging industry versus … a mature industry, things are kind of being figured out as you go,” he said. “Brands are looking to move fast because the zeitgeist in this space moves fast.”
Irene Lee is a partner at Russ August & Kabat where she focuses on intellectual property law.
She helps digital talent protect their names, images, and content by formalizing their IP rights and negotiating and documenting deals.
“The influencers that we are representing, some of them are still in their teens, early 20s,” Lee told Insider. “Even though these folks are really fast learners, I think there’s certain things that come with experience.”
“Their image, their reputation — that’s their commodity,” she added.
Lee has worked with various TikTok influencers within TalentX Entertainment, including Josh Richards and Jaden Hossler, who she helped secure a trademark for his signature name, “JXDN.”
Anita K. Sharma is the founding managing partner at Sharma Law, an entertainment and IP law firm.
The company handles a variety of legal tasks for content creators, including brand sponsorship contracts, book deals, trademarks, and content licensing deals.
“I started in film and TV and really got into the digital space more in about 2013,” Sharma told Insider. “That was kind of the tipping point when people started to realize, ‘Whoa, these social media platforms — you can buid a business. There’s a lot of money to be made.'”
Sharma helped negotiate a contract between Nio Rooch and esports organization FaZe Clan, a content deal between YouTuber Michelle Khare and HBO Max, and helped beauty creator Brad Mondo launch a hair-care brand.
Amazon is facing a legal challenge in California that could upend its lucrative third-party sales business.
The incident behind the lawsuit began when a woman named Kisha Loomis purchased a hoverboard on Amazon in 2015. The product came from TurnUpUp, an alias of a company called SMILETO, which is believed to be based in China.
On New Year’s Eve, the hoverboard caught on fire while charging. Loomis escaped the flames in her bedroom, but not without sustaining burns to her hands and feet. She went on to sue Forrinx Technology — the outfit that delivered the hoverboard — as well as the seller and Amazon in 2016.
In the initial trial, Amazon asked for summary judgment, arguing that it was outside “the chain of distribution for product liability purposes,” which would render it not liable. The court ruled in Amazon’s favor, and Loomis appealed the decision.
Now, the appellate court has ruled in the plaintiff’s favor, meaning that Amazon is left open to a legal ruling that could potentially alter the way it does business. Third-party sales accounted for $386 billion — or 54% of the company’s total net sales — in 2020. Research firm Finbold also found that Amazon is adding 3,700 new sellers daily in 2021.
A ruling in favor of Loomis could leave Amazon liable for products sold by all of its third-party merchants, even those that it does not directly warehouse or delivery with its Fulfillment by Amazon business.
“California’s got some pretty consumer-friendly law when it comes to product liability,” attorney and former Texas appellate justice John Browning, who has litigated product liability cases, told Insider. “It means that Amazon is not going to be able to walk away from this quite so quickly.”
Amazon declined to comment on the lawsuit itself, but it did send Insider a statement on product safety.
“Amazon invests heavily in the safety and authenticity of all products offered in our store including proactively vetting sellers and products before being listed, and continuously monitoring our store for signals of a concern,” a spokesperson said in a statement sent to Insider. “Amazon supports legislation that provides protections for consumers wherever they shop online to ensure all stores are held to the same standards.”
Appellate judges took the impact on public safety into consideration in their ruling. In a concurring opinion, Judge John Wiley wrote: “This case is easy. Amazon is well situated to take cost-effective measures to minimize the social costs of accidents. Strict liability will prompt this beneficial conduct.”
“Once Amazon is convinced it will be holding the bag on these accidents, this motivation will prompt it to engineer effective ways to minimize these accident costs,” Wiley wrote. “Tort law will inspire Amazon to align its ingenuity with efficient customer safety. Customers will benefit.”
Browning said he wouldn’t be surprised if the case ends up settled without going to trial. Still, he said the ruling seems to indicate that “the tide may be turning” against Amazon on a legal basis. The tech giant has been able to argue out of many similar lawsuits.
“It’s another crack in this facade of invincibility that Amazon has built up,” he said.
Bill and Melinda Gates’ announcement on Monday that they were separating shocked many.
And though the power couple’s news came out of the blue, their divorce filing was likely the product of months of private negotiations in an effort to keep things under wraps, said Jennifer Brandt, the chair of Cozen O’Connor’s law firm, which has represented people with high net worth in divorces.
Court battles have led to embarrassing reveals. The contentious divorce of Bill Gross, the founder of asset-manager Pimco, and his wife, Susan, made headlines with hostile text messages, a fake Picasso, and accusations of stalking.
Privacy and complexity of assets are the two biggest challenges for high-profile pairs seeking a divorce, according to Richard Adago, a cochair of the Phillips Nizer law firm’s matrimonial department. To stay out of the limelight and disentangle and divvy up assets, these couples tend to try to settle as much as they can privately before publicly filing for divorce.
“If you want to keep out of the public eye, then don’t go to court,” Adago said.
Insider spoke with six lawyers and divorce experts to lay out how the ultrarich and famous avoid messy public divorce battles.
To keep things out of court, get a team of lawyers
While most people hire just one divorce lawyer, wealthy couples usually assemble a team of three to five lawyers. In addition to divorce experts, they need corporate, tax, and trust and estate lawyers to help negotiate the apportionment of their assets.
Having teams of lawyers who can work collaboratively is especially crucial for high-profile people who want to keep their lives private, family lawyers told Insider.
“People with high net worths generally have the same goal of not wanting to expose their private lives and private wealth to the public,” Frederic Siegel, a matrimonial lawyer at Siegel & Kaufman, said. “The most important component is that you have lawyers that work well together and that only litigate if necessary.”
The average rate for a divorce lawyer is $250 an hour, which clocks in at $13,000 for a divorce, according to a study by the legal publisher Nolo. But for wealthy couples with numerous assets, that figure can multiply quickly.
Lawyers can also play mediating roles, especially in divorces where emotions often run high.
The Gateses have tapped a bevy of superstar lawyers for their nearly $150 billion divorce. Bill Gates is represented by a team of three partners at Munger, Tolles & Olson; Wendy Goffe, a trusts and estates partner at Stoel Rives; and Ted Billbe, a divorce lawyer in Washington state.
On the other side of the aisle, Melinda Gates has hired Sherri Anderson, a lawyer in Washington who represented Mackenzie Scott in her $38 billion divorce from Jeff Bezos. (Billbe was Bezos’ attorney.) Melinda Gates’ team also includes divorce lawyer Robert Cohen of Cohen Clair Lans Greifer Thorpe & Rottenstreich, whose celebrity clients have included Michael Bloomberg, Uma Thurman, and Ivana Trump, as well as the litigator Bruce Birenboim and trust and estates lawyer Loretta Ippolito, both from Paul Weiss.
With such “amazing” wealth “it really takes a village,” Siegel said.
Separation contracts, prenups, and mediation as alternatives to court
Because there’s no privacy when you go to court — where documents are usually visible to the public — high-profile couples usually opt to hash things out beforehand.
“The key thing is to keep it out of court, sit down with your lawyers, and work out a deal,” Adago said.
There are a few approaches that can allow couples to keep their divorce out of the public eye. A separation agreement is a private legal document that stipulates how people will split their property and custody when they separate. This contract is signed without involving a judge, and does not have to be filed in court to be legally binding.
A prenuptial agreement is similar, but is signed before marriage.
In their petition for divorce, Bill and Melinda Gates said they had a separation contract but no prenup. All the matrimonial lawyers Insider spoke with said the agreement was probably in the works for months and involved the battalion of lawyers the couple hired.
“It’s a done deal that’s never going to go public,” said Peter Walzer, a celebrity divorce lawyer and founding partner of Walzer Melcher. “It’s a fabulous way to do it.”
Mediation is another choice for couples seeking a private divorce, where a third-party mediator like a lawyer or retired judge steps in and helps the two parties confidentially negotiate the terms of their separation. Walzer said that about 95% of couples — celebrities or not — mediate their divorces.
It’s likely the Gateses’ separation agreement will never be made public, at least in a court filing. But if there is an appeal, all bets are off.
“Appeals can’t be handled privately, so sometimes details get revealed even if the original settlement wasn’t,” said divorce financial analyst Kara Duckworth, a managing director at the wealth-management firm Mercer Advisors. “But if the details get leaked later, it’s usually by a friend or family member who has knowledge of the situation.”
Another alternative is binding arbitration. Unlike in mediation, the decision made by the third-party arbitrator cannot be appealed or overturned, barring accusations of inappropriate actions from the arbitrator, such as fraud or bias.
Winding up in court, and in the public eye
Divorces turn ugly when even arbitration and mediation fail to resolve issues and the couple has to go to court, the least desirable outcome for couples who want to avoid the spotlight.
“You get messy divorces when couples have no other choice to let a third party such as a judge decide. Because they’re public figures, the media hears about it,” Cozen O’Connor’s Brandt said.
If a divorce does escalate to court, the way the superrich manage their assets through trusts can obscure details.
“If you have a marital agreement in place and you’ve utilized some trust structures where your assets don’t have your name or are protected through another entity, there are ways you can layer some privacy,” said Jeff Carson, a former estate lawyer in private practice and current senior fiduciary officer at the wealth-management firm Diversified Trust.
That said, it’s difficult to keep matters private — financial and personal — once a divorce is part of the public record, Carson added.
Attorney General William Barr had just arrived at the White House for a meeting last spring when a Trump aide intercepted him.
Ushered into the Roosevelt Room, Barr encountered Johnny McEntee, the former college quarterback who had become a top Trump aide. McEntee introduced Barr to Bill Evanina, a top counterintelligence official in the administration who had previously worked at the FBI.
“What’s this all about?” Barr asked, failing to see the point of the meeting.
Before long, Barr saw through the awkward introduction. Evanina was being presented as the answer to a question that had stymied the White House as President Donald Trump flirted openly with firing FBI Director Chris Wray: Who, if not Wray, should lead the bureau?
Barr turned on his heels and left the room.
The episode, which has not been previously reported and was described to Insider by a person briefed on the matter, was seen in some corners of the Trump administration as the closest Wray came to getting fired.
When told of the plotting — which also involved replacing then-Deputy FBI Director David Bowdich with the controversial Trump national security advisor Kash Patel — Barr threatened to resign in protest, according to the person briefed on the deliberations.
A year later, Wray now finds himself less a holdover from the Trump administration than a survivor of it. Behind him are the days of a White House out for his head and of a scandal-ridden president griping in private about the federal government’s interest in his own affairs. Gone is the Twitter microphone blasting out the president’s grievances over perceived acts of disloyalty.
“He’ll have more time to devote to the types of things that the FBI director historically has focused on, as opposed to Twitter storms and the latest tantrum or eruption from the White House,” said Charlie Steele, who served as former FBI Director Robert Mueller’s chief of staff from 2004 to 2006.
A personality shift
For Wray, 54, the Biden administration has come with a calmer political climate — at least as far as his job security is concerned.
On the first day of the Biden administration, White House press secretary Jen Psaki was noncommittal when asked whether the president had confidence in Wray. Her non-answer prompted more questions about Wray’s future leading the FBI despite still having more than half of his 10-year term left.
Psaki said the following day that she had caused an “unintentional ripple” with the dodge and clarified that Biden intended to keep Wray atop the bureau.
“He comes to the job with a good deal of relevant experience. The norm is that an FBI director serves his full 10-year term. That was [breached] in the Trump administration,” said Jamie Gorelick, a former deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration. “The attorney general testified that he wanted to reaffirm the norms that have served the department so well, and I’m sure this is one of them.”
But the Biden administration has also come with some measure of whiplash with the change in leadership at the Justice Department.
Above him now on DOJ’s organizational chart is Attorney General Merrick Garland, a former federal appeals court judge and onetime nominee for the Supreme Court. Garland’s measured, soft-spoken style represents marked change from the famously brash Barr, who was nicknamed “the Buffalo” for his hard-charging ways.
“Barr is a force of nature and pure id,” a former Justice Department official said. “Garland may be finding himself having a similar experience to Wray’s: They’re thoughtful, reserved institutionalists who are doing their best to guide institutions they cherish through a highly politically-charged time in our nation’s history, having to navigate the currents in both directions.”
In nearly a dozen interviews, current and former DOJ officials said Garland represents more of a personality fit for the low-key FBI director, who was confirmed in early August 2017, just months after Trump’s abrupt firing of James Comey set off a chain of events that led to Robert Mueller’s appointment as special counsel to run the Russia investigation.
New priorities for Wray in the Biden era
The arrival of Biden-appointed leadership nonetheless marks the first significant reset for Wray in his relationship with the main Justice Department.
Under the new administration, DOJ is in the midst of politically-sensitive criminal investigations into Trump allies such as Rep. Matt Gaetz and Rudy Giuliani, addresses the rising threat of domestic terrorism, and reprioritizing police reform after a moribund four years inside its civil rights division.
On Garland’s first day at the Justice Department, Wray helped brief the attorney general on the investigation into the deadly rioting at the US Capitol, which has resulted in hundreds of prosecutions against members of a pro-Trump mob. Two have been in almost daily contact since, whether in phone calls or in-person meetings.
In the months and years ahead, the working relationship will be molded by that investigation and the Justice Department’s broader efforts to address domestic terrorism, current and former officials said.
“The domestic terrorism investigation is the most pressing and sprawling investigation in the department right now,” said Gorelick, now a top partner at the law firm Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale and Dorr. “You don’t control what comes at you as attorney general, and that relationship has to work really well for the department to be working really well.”
In the immediate aftermath of the Trump administration, the Justice Department and Wray’s FBI are also ramping up investigations into Giuliani’s Ukraine dealings during his time as the former president’s personal lawyer.
The FBI executed search warrants on Giuliani’s home and office in Manhattan in late April, prompting the former New York City mayor to condemn the move as reflecting a “corrupt double standard” by the Justice Department, which he said ignored crimes by prominent Democrats.
Gaetz has made similar claims in the face of a sex trafficking investigation that started under Barr’s leadership. In a recent op-ed, the Florida GOP congressman wrote, “Although I’m sure some partisan crooks in Merrick Garland’s Justice Department want to pervert the truth and the law to go after me, I will not be intimidated or extorted.”
Garland emphasized in his Senate confirmation proceedings that he would act strictly according to the law and not be influenced by politics. But the public attacks on the investigations into Trump allies underscore how claims of political bias will persist and present political headaches for Garland and Wray on the heels of an era in which Trump and his allies vilifiedby name specific FBI agents and staff who had been on the case to investigate him.
Wray’s FBI will also play a key role in DOJ’s investigations into police departments across the US. In his first weeks as attorney general, Garland has announced probes focusing on Minneapolis and Louisville, which follow the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police in those jurisdictions.
In interviews, former government officials said those police investigations could test the relationships between Biden appointees and Wray, a 30-year member of the Federalist Society who rose to prominence inside conservative legal circles and held top roles at the Justice Department under the George W. Bush administration.
“Those can obviously raise tricky issues for federal law enforcement components that work with and cooperate with state and local law enforcement,” a former Justice Department official said.
Garland and Wray bring shared experience to their new working relationship.
In the Clinton administration, Garland served as Gorelick’s top advisor in the role of principal associate deputy attorney general — the highest Justice Department position that doesn’t require Senate confirmation. Wray held the same top role in the George W. Bush administration under Comey before being confirmed to head DOJ’s criminal division. That position helped launch him into a lucrative career in mid-2005 as a white-collar defense partner at the law firm King & Spalding.
Now back in government, Wray reports to Garland and the Justice Department’s second-ranking official, Lisa Monaco, who headed the national security division under the Obama administration. All three worked earlier in their careers as line prosecutors, with Monaco and Garland both hailing from the US attorney’s office in Washington, which is now handling the hundreds of Capitol riot cases. Wray had been an assistant US attorney in the federal prosecutor’s office in Atlanta.
“I think there’s a lot of similarity between Chris and the attorney and the deputy AG,” said former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, who hired Wray as his top deputy during the Bush administration. “Each of them has a great deal of experience in the Department of Justice, they’re all thoroughly professional, and I think they share great fidelity to the department as an institution.”
A senior FBI official said that, while Wray and Garland never crossed paths during their Justice Department tenures, they were connected by their past roles. In 1995, Garland led the investigation of the Oklahoma City bombing as the principal associate deputy attorney general. When Wray held that role years later, he was involved in bringing the case to a close.
“They are linked in that sense by having bookended that case, in a sense,” the FBI official said.
‘The consummate institutionalist’
Trump nominated Wray in 2017 after firing Comey, whose removal just four years into his 10-year term was examined by Mueller’s special counsel office as part of its investigation into whether the former president sought to obstruct the Russia investigation.
At the time of the firing, Trump purported to base the decision on Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Comey had come under fire for going around Justice Department leadership and announcing that an investigation into Clinton, then the Democratic frontrunner to be its 2016 presidential nominee, should be closed without prosecution. That July 2016 press conference was seen even among some Comey supporters as the outgrowth of a self-righteous streak and confidence rooted in his tenure as deputy attorney general during the Bush administration.
At the FBI, Comey was known for an affable approach that featured recommendations for bureau staff to sleep, “fight for balance in their lives” and to “love somebody,” as he wrote in his book “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership.” Comey wore blue dress shirts, occasionally started meetings with jokes, asked about weekends and vacations — all in a departure from the starchier style of Mueller during his tenure as FBI director.
In his early years at the FBI, Wray came to be seen within the Justice Department as an enigmatic figure with his reserved, down-to-business approach.
“Wray is not the charismatic leader that Comey was. His whole focus is on the work,” one former top FBI official told Insider.
“He’s the consummate institutionalist in terms of understanding that he heads a bureau, he reports to the [deputy attorney general]. He’s not an icon like Mueller or Comey. He’s very much a traditional, by-the-book, knows-where-he-fits-into-the-organization kind of FBI director,” the former official added.
And in a contrast with Comey, who was seen as struggling to report to the deputy attorney general after once holding that role himself, Wray has demonstrated an ability to preserve the FBI’s independence while acknowledging his place in the larger Justice Department’s chain of command.
“It’s not unique to Wray that there’s always this sort of tension between the FBI as a subcomponent of the Department of Justice and the FBI as an autonomous institution. I think he’s fully aware of the dynamics on both sides of that and does his best to navigate them,” a former Justice Department official said.
Brushes with firing
Wray’s tenure atop the FBI has endured not just because Trump never ultimately fired him. Indeed, before Trump raised the threat of removing him, it was Wray who was threatening to resign.
Shortly after his confirmation in 2017, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions wanted Wray to fire Andrew McCabe, who had stepped in as the acting FBI director following Comey’s ouster. At the time, Wray thought highly of McCabe and refused to make the move despite pressure from Sessions and the Trump White House, according to a person familiar with his response.
In his pushback, Wray threatened to quit.
Months later, after DOJ’s inspector general found that McCabe misled internal investigators about his his disclosure of information to a Wall Street Journal reporter, Wray did not push back against his firing. McCabe challenged his termination in federal court, and under the Biden administration, the Justice Department has begun to “explore the possibility of a settlement,” according to a recent court filing in the case.
Wray found himself in the political crucible later in his tenure as Trump publicly voiced disappointment over the FBI director’s statements about antifa, voter fraud, and Russia’s election interference efforts. In congressional testimony and other statements, Wray was seen as not embracing — or even contradicting — Trump’s frequently false and overhyped claims.
During the runup to the 2020 election, Trump said Wray would not be “doing a very good job” if he didn’t acknowledge the potential of widespread voter fraud, which the FBI director disputed as being a rampant issue. Wray’s description of antifa as an ideology ran counter to Trump’s view that it should be designated as a terror group. That caused friction with DOJ leaders, who thought stronger language was appropriate for the loose network of antifascist protesters, according to a former official familiar with the deliberations.
As Trump’s ire toward Wray built, Barr repeatedly stepped in to run interference or outright shield the FBI director, according to people familiar with his efforts. Barr and Wray had built a relationship that improved over weekly lunches and as the two worked together responding to the widespread social unrest that followed Floyd’s killing in police custody last year.
Under the Biden administration, Wray now enters a new era with an opportunity to show how he operates without a president demanding loyalty and a potential firing always in the background.
“His focus is more on the basic blocking and tackling the FBI does, and less on remaking the organization,” a former top FBI official said. “And, as a result, internally and externally, some will criticize him and some will say, ‘That’s the way a director is supposed to do it.'”
“No FBI director can make everybody happy,” the former bureau official added.
More than half a year after Philip Dahlin and Mary Arndtsen signed a contract with Tesla to install a Solar Roof on their home in New Hope, Pennsylvania, the couple received a message from the company.
Tesla said their price would now be $78,352.66, up from the $46,084.80 price they’d agreed upon.
“Our budget was based on the contract that we had, so it was not something that we had prepared for,” Dahlin told Insider this week via phone.
Dahlin and Arndsten in late April filed a lawsuit against Tesla in US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The suit said the tech giant was in breach of its contract. It also said the company violated consumer protection acts covering home improvement and trade practices.
An article in the Uniform Commercial Code allows buyers and sellers to modify agreements after they’re signed, said D. A. Jeremy Telman, a contracts professor at Oklahoma City University School of Law, after reviewing the Pennsylvania complaint and a lightly redacted Tesla contract.
“However, both parties must consent to the changes. That seems here not to have been the case,” Telman said.
Tesla was issued a summons on May 3, according to the Pennsylvania court. The company had not filed a response as of Saturday afternoon. An email from Insider wasn’t returned.
Elon Musk, chief executive, addressed customer concerns during the company’s Q1 earnings call in late April, saying, “We did find that we basically made some significant mistakes in assessment of difficulty of certain roofs.”
The lawsuit seeks class-action status
The Pennsylvania couple’s complaint said it would seek class-action status.
Their attorney, Peter Muhic, of LeVan Muhic Stapleton, said he’d heard from “numerous” homeowners in situations similar to Dahlin and Arndtsen. He declined to give a specific number.
“They advertise a very unique product that they claim is much better than other competing products,” Muhic told Insider on Thursday. “And we believe that they need to honor their contracts, and they have to perform as they had promised and agreed.”
Muhic would have to file a motion to have the case formally certified as a class action. The complaint said there are more than 100 potential class members who had signed contracts totalling more than $5 million.
A copy of a Tesla Solar Roof contact filed alongside the complaint included an arbitration agreement between the parties. That clause could be a roadblock for the case to gain class-action status, said Gregory Klass, associate dean and professor at Georgetown University Law Center.
“Tesla’s arbitration clause almost certainly forestalls this class action under current Supreme Court precedent,” he said on Friday, citing a 2011 case, AT&T v. Concepcion.
In the legal complaint, Muhic wrote that the arbitration clause would be struck down as invalid under Pennsylvania law, in part because of the way it had been formatted on the page. He wrote that the clause also “does not contain a separate line for each party to indicate assent.”
Connecticut homeowners say Tesla also raised their price
In Weston, Connecticut, Jay and Robin Fortin signed a contract in January to install a Solar Roof on their 1955 colonial home. They agreed on a price of about $62,000 in their contract, Jay Fortin told Insider on Friday. His wife signed the contract.
When a tech came to study their home, the price jumped up about $6,600, because Tesla would have to change the type of wood beneath their shingles, he said. Then, in April, the couple received a message from Tesla, letting them know the price had gone up to about $91,000.
“I’m not going to pay the new price,” Fortin said on Friday. “We can’t. The whole thing made sense for us because we needed a new roof anyway, and we wanted backup power.”
He later added: “I wish we hadn’t gotten involved with the whole thing, tell you the truth.”
Fortin said he reached out to Muhic after learning of the complaint. Fortin hasn’t taken legal action, but said he’d consider joining a class-action lawsuit.
In Pennsylvania, Dahlin signed the contract with Tesla for a total price of $46,919.20 on September 17, 2020, according to a copy filed with the court. The couple paid a $100 deposit. After subtracting the deposit and an energy rebate, they would owe $46,084.80 after the installation, according to the contract.
The couple refinanced their home, where they’ve lived since 2006, to pay for the project. The contract said the roof would be installed within 180 days.
“We were pretty excited about the prospects,” said Dahlin, who works in sustainability. “Also, just generating our own energy to charge the Tesla we already had, the car.”
During the following 180 days, the couple heard little from Tesla.
On March 24, the couple received an email from Tesla, saying: “We have increased the price of Solar Roof and have added adjustments for individual roof complexity.”
On April 23, they learned that the price had been increased to $78,352.66, according to their complaint.
Said Dahlin, “And then when we did get the email, it was a significant disappointment, obviously.”