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
The person who oversees day-to-day government operations in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, was fired Monday, a day after a police officer in the city fatally shot a young Black man during a traffic stop.
“Effective immediately our city manager has been relieved of his duties,” Mayor Mike Elliott announced on Twitter.
On Sunday, a police officer in Brooklyn Center shot Daunte Wright, 20, in what the officer’s superiors insist was an accident. Body-camera footage of the incident shows Wright scuffling with the police and getting back into the driver’s seat of his car, at which point an officer can be heard shouting: “Taser! Taser! Taser!”
The Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office said Monday that Wright died from a gunshot wound to the chest, ruling his death a homicide.
Effective immediately our city manager has been relieved of his duties, and the deputy city manager will be assuming his duties moving forward. I will continue to work my hardest to ensure good leadership at all levels of our city government.
Earlier in the day, City Manager Curt Boganey, amid calls to fire the officer who pulled the trigger, said all employees of the city were entitled to “due process with respect to discipline.”
“This employee will receive due process,” he said, “and that’s really all I can say today.”
He was removed from his position soon after. According to the Minnesota Star Tribune, city-council members also voted 3-2 to hand the former city manager’s authority over the police department to the mayor.
Wright’s killing comes at a particularly fraught time, as just a short drive away jurors hear testimony in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer charged with killing George Floyd in Minneapolis last year.
Regina Rodriguez stood out among President Joe Biden’s first slate of federal judicial nominees.
As the daughter of a Mexican-American father and Japanese-American mother who was sent to an internment camp during World War II, she brought a compelling personal story alongside her background as a former federal prosecutor and partner at a major law firm.
But on a list of 11 judicial picks from late March that was otherwise praised for its racial diversity, Rodriguez’s nomination for a lifetime appointment in Colorado still didn’t sit well with critical corners of the Democratic Party.
Two dozen advocacy groups including Americans for Financial Reform, Consumer Action, and US PIRG joined a chorus of criticism that the Biden administration is falling well short of its stated aim of breaking from the mold of longtime prosecutors and corporate lawyers to bring more professional diversity to the federal bench.
In a letter to the White House last week, they voiced concern that the roster of nominees did not “include anyone with genuine experience representing consumers and workers, but instead continued the historic pattern of drawing nominees from big corporate law firms.”
“Old habits die hard for some senators who are used to recommending corporate lawyers and prosecutors for federal judgeships,” added Demand Justice, a progressive advocacy group focused on the judiciary. The group did not name Rodriguez or her law firm — Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale and Dorr — but had previously faulted Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat of Colorado, for recommending a lawyer with a record defending McDonald’s and other corporate clients.
The uproar from progressive groups underscored the intensifying pressure in the Democratic Party to eschew corporate law firms for judicial nominations and instead pull from the ranks of civil rights and legal aid attorneys and advocates for consumers and workers. It’s tough love for Biden coming from the left, even following four tumultuous years where President Donald Trump dramatically shifted the federal courts to the conservative and religious right.
Progressives say they’re disgruntled to see the nation’s biggest law firms — Goodwin Procter, Morrison & Foerster, and Kirkland & Ellis, to name a few — line the resumes of Biden’s judicial nominees. That means they’re flagging the likes of an otherwise racially diverse group that includes Tiffany Cunningham, a Perkins Coie partner who just got picked to be the first Black woman on a federal appeals court that specializes in patent cases, and Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, a Zuckerman Spaeder partner nominated to be the second Black woman to serve on the Chicago-based US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. (Judge Ann Claire Williams, the first Black woman appointed to the 7th Circuit, retired in January 2018.)
In the early months of Biden’s presidency, pressure from progressives has also extended to executive branch roles, raising hurdles for corporate law firm partners angling for top roles at the Justice Department and elsewhere in the administration.
One lawyer close to the Biden administration remarked to Insider about how, “in a very short amount of time,” a law-firm partnership had devolved from a neutral credential to a liability for Democrats seeking a political appointment.
“That’s a dramatic shift,” the lawyer said.
‘Deficit in expertise and experience’
Biden’s administration has plenty of room to improve professional diversity in the country’s courts: Only one percent of all the current federal appellate judges have spent the majority of their careers as public defenders or legal aid attorneys, according to the Federal Justice Center, the research and education agency of the US judicial branch.
The Center for American Progress has also reported that more than 70 percent of all current appellate judges have spent the majority of their careers in private practice or as federal prosecutors as of July 2020.
Jiny Kim, the vice president for policy and programs at Asian American Justice Center, told Insider that there is a “deficit in expertise and experience” among federal appellate judges right now.
“Who makes key decisions about the rights of Americans should reflect Americans overall. The judiciary branch right now, as it is, is not reflective of that. In terms of diversity, whether its racial, ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, or professional diversity, it is just simply not reflective of the diversity of America,” she said.
Dana Remus, now the White House counsel, reinforced the incoming Biden administration’s commitment on professional diversity in a December letter to senators.
Remus, who previously served as an Obama White House lawyer, said the administration is “particularly focused on nominating individuals whose legal experiences have been historically underrepresented on the federal bench, including those who are public defenders, civil rights and legal aid attorneys, and those who represent Americans in every walk of life.”
A ‘purity test’?
Biden’s aim to promote professional diversity has elevated some potential nominees. It’s also torpedoed others.
The president prioritized both professional and racial diversity when he picked Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a Black woman and former public defender, for one of the two vacant seats on the powerful US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.
For the other vacancy on the DC Circuit, the White House is considering Deepak Gupta, a prominent appellate lawyer whose public-interest law firm specializes in representing consumers, workers and civil rights and environmental groups.
Gupta describes his firm on its website as a “counterweight to the corporate dominance of the Supreme Court and appellate bar.” Progressive groups including the National Association of Consumer Advocates have recently sent letters to the White House urging Biden to nominate Gupta, 43, who rose to prominence in recent years arguing before the Supreme Court and leading high-profile litigation against Trump and his administration.
The National Association of Consumer Advocates has also sent a letter supporting Karla Gilbride, a lawyer at Public Justice who like Gupta has vocally opposed mandatory arbitration agreements that prevent consumers from taking corporations to court.
Google is now a resume no-no
At firms that represent corporations in court, top lawyers with strong Democratic ties have seen their client rosters complicate their hopes of landing a job in the Biden administration.
In the search for a nominee to lead the Justice Department’s antitrust division, the Biden administration has struggled to land on a pick because several top contenders have represented Google or other Big Tech companies. The past representations have raised ethical concerns at a time when the Justice Department is taking on Google in court, alleging that the search giant has unlawfully maintained a monopoly with anticompetitive business practices.
Among the lawyers knocked out of consideration was Terrell McSweeny, a former Biden aide whom Obama appointed to the Federal Trade Commission. McSweeny, now a partner at Covington & Burling, withdrew after White House lawyers said her past representation of companies that complained about Google would force her to recuse herself from the Justice Department’s case, Politico reported.
Some partners inside law firms with Democratic ties privately gripe that the Biden administration has been unfairly applying a “purity test” over past clients and positions. A lawyer with knowledge of the Biden administration’s selection process noted that Jonathan Sallet, a former Obama administration lawyer, has apparently remained in contention for the antitrust division role despite working for the state of Colorado and joining with a coalition of state attorneys general who have filed a parallel lawsuit against Google.
Late last year, the prominent appellate lawyer David Frederick was seen as a top contender for the nomination to serve as US solicitor general, the chief Supreme Court advocate at the Justice Department. At the law firm Kellogg, Hansen, Todd, Figel & Frederick, Frederick is known for representing consumers before the Supreme Court. He also represented retired National Football League players in a case accusing the league of concealing the risks of concussions in the sport.
But he fell out of consideration, in part, because his client roster included Shell Oil Company, according to a person close to the selection process. HuffPost reported in January that more than 50 environmental and faith-based groups wrote a letter urging the then-incoming Biden administration to remove Frederick from consideration.
Since then, the Biden administration has struggled to find a nominee for solicitor general. The administration twice approached California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, but she declined to accept the nomination, believing it could only complicate her hopes of some day being named to the US Supreme Court, according to two people familiar with her decision.
‘The benefit of the doubt’
Progressive groups appeared to respond most forcefully to Rodriguez’s background as a corporate lawyer at Wilmer Hale. But the law firm ties didn’t end with her.
Biden nominated Cunningham for a seat on the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. She’s a Perkins Coie partner who “serves as trial and appellate counsel for large multinational companies, as well as small enterprises, and individuals in complex patent and trade secret disputes,” the White House said.
Jackson-Akiwumi, the 7th Circuit nominee, worked as a federal public defender for 10 years before joining the law firm Zuckerman Spaeder last year as a partner. Zahid N. Quraishi, a magistrate judge who previously led the white-collar defense practice at Riker Danzig, was nominated to be a federal trial judge in New Jersey.
Margaret Strickland, a name partner and criminal defense lawyer at McGraw & Strickland, was nominated to be a federal trial judge in New Mexico. Strickland, like other nominees in Biden’s first slate, also had experience as a public defender.
In spite of their criticism of the first batch of judicial nominees, progressive advocates said they were pleased to see Biden move quickly to start nominating judges after seeing Trump stock the federal bench almost exclusively with conservative white men.
“We were very heartened to see that President Biden’s first slate of nominees really did reflect a commitment to professional diversity,” Maggie Jo Buchanan, director of Legal Progress at the Center for American Progress, told Insider.
“We’re really seeing an unprecedented focus on the importance of (professionally diverse) perspectives, and that is extremely welcome news to anyone who believes that judicial decision making should be fair and reflective of a wide variety of expertise.”
For progressive groups that had previously focused on regulations, Trump’s aggressive push to stock the federal courts prompted a newfound engagement on judicial nominations. Some advocates said that several of Biden’s initial judge picks had been vetted or even nominated late in the Obama administration, making them safe options for a first group that would draw especially close scrutiny.
“The fact of the matter is there are cases and there is litigation and legal work that is inextricably tied to financial justice. It’s affected by who’s on the bench,” said Linda Jun, senior policy counsel for the economic justice group Americans for Financial Reform.
Jun’s group on Friday publicly released a letter it organized urging the Biden White House to “prioritize both professional and demographic diversity for all future judicial nominations.”
Joined by 23 consumer, civil rights, community, housing, and other public interest organizations, their letter to Remus said lawyers “who have spent their careers developing an in-depth understanding of the legal needs of everyday people are systematically underrepresented on the bench.”
Ira Rheingold, the executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates, said his group has begun to push the Biden administration on professional diversity out of concern for the “judicial hostility” it has seen the Supreme Court and lower courts show for consumer claims.
But Rheingold said he remains confident in the Biden administration’s interest in professional diversity in spite of his disappointment with the first slate.
“At this point, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt,” he said. But, he added, the National Association of Consumer Advocates will be “watching carefully to see their promises are kept” and that the Biden administration “will help create a judiciary that’s diverse in ways it’s never been diverse before.”
President Joe Biden is expected to nominate Kenneth Polite, a white-collar defense lawyer and former top federal prosecutor in New Orleans, to lead the Justice Department’s criminal division, according to two people familiar with the pick.
If the Senate confirms Polite, he will be a Justice Department assistant attorney general supervising a broad enforcement portfolio covering everything from high-profile cases involving politicians to drug trafficking, financial crimes, and other corporate misconduct.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the Justice Department’s criminal division has also spearheaded the crackdown on COVID-19-related fraud, bringing multiple cases over suspected misuse of federal relief programs designed to prop up struggling businesses.
And the department’s criminal division has oversight of public corruption cases and other politically sensitive investigations, including any federal inquiries involving former President Donald Trump or his associates. It also is responsible for the sex-trafficking investigation into Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida.
As one of the youngest US attorneys appointed during the Obama administration, Polite took charge of a federal prosecutor’s office in eastern Louisiana that was reeling from a scandal involving top officials who had commented anonymously on online news stories about cases the office handled. The scandal ended the 11-year tenure of Polite’s predecessor, Jim Letten, who at the time of his 2012 resignation was the longest-serving US attorney in the country.
In Polite’s four-year tenure, the office brought high-profile prosecutions against the former professional football player Darren Sharper and the New York real-estate heir Robert Durst, who has been accused of killing multiple people and was sentenced in 2016 to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Following the Obama administration, Polite joined Entergy as the energy company’s chief compliance officer. Polite later joined Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, where he led the law firm’s role in an American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana initiative to combat discriminative police practices.
The Justice Department declined to comment. Polite could not be reached for comment.
A retreat from Trump-era priorities
In a discussion last year with his law-firm partners, Polite said the Justice Department’s investigations into pandemic-relief fraud would “likely bring an uptick of enforcement” under the Biden administration. He also projected that the Biden-era Justice Department would pull away from the aggressive immigration enforcement that Trump appointees prioritized.
“I expect you will see a rollback of that widespread enforcement to a more tailored approach where prosecutions are focused on the worst of the worst: individuals who have a violent criminal history and repeat offenders,” he said.
Polite served earlier in his career as a federal prosecutor in Manhattan.
If confirmed, Polite could benefit from his ties to the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, nicknamed the “Sovereign District” for its reputation of independence from Justice Department headquarters.
With a background as a chief compliance officer, he also brings private-sector experience that has increasingly come into play in the Justice Department’s criminal division.
Under the Trump administration, the Justice Department issued further guidance on how corporate-compliance programs should be designed to head off or limit white-collar misconduct. The quality of such programs is frequently a key consideration in whether the Justice Department extends leniency to corporations in white-collar enforcement actions.
Polite emerged as the leading candidate in recent weeks from a pool that included two fellow Obama-appointed US attorneys, Neil MacBride and Willy Ferrer, who served as the top federal prosecutors in eastern Virginia and Miami, respectively.
MacBride, now a white-collar defense lawyer at the law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell, served as a top aide to Biden during his tenure on the Senate Judiciary Committee. After Biden’s electoral victory, MacBride joined the transition team tasked with reviewing the Justice Department and hoped to be nominated for deputy attorney general, according to people familiar with the matter.
At a time when the Justice Department is investigating the financial dealings of Biden’s son and seeking to reestablish its independence on the heels of the Trump era, MacBride’s longstanding relationship with the president came to complicate his nomination prospects, according to people familiar with the selection process.
As Biden closes in on his 100th day in office, his pick for deputy attorney general, Lisa Monaco, is awaiting confirmation, as is Vanita Gupta, the former head of the Justice Department’s civil-rights division who was nominated for the third-ranking role of associate attorney general.
Biden has yet to fill several other top Justice Department posts with Senate-confirmed leaders, in a sharp departure from Obama, who named his nominees to lead the antitrust, civil, criminal, and national security divisions by his third day in office. Biden’s picks to lead the civil-rights division and the environmental and natural-resources division are set to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday for a confirmation hearing.
In the meantime, the Biden-era Justice Department has been led largely by white men, giving rise to criticism in Democratic circles. Among the interim leaders at the Justice Department are acting Deputy Attorney General John Carlin, who led the national security division under the Obama administration, and the former Obama White House lawyer Nicholas McQuaid, who is now serving as the acting assistant attorney general in charge of the criminal division.
Brian Boynton, a former top Justice Department official under the Obama administration, is overseeing the civil division on an acting basis. A holdover from the Trump administration, John Demers, has remained in charge of the Justice Department’s national security division.
Other social-media stars are licensing their image and IP to toy makers, retailers, and legacy media companies.
Child star Ryan Kaji drove hundreds of millions of dollars in sales last year by turning his toy-focused YouTube channel into a suite of products sold on Walmart and Target shelves. And YouTube stars have landed content deals with streaming platforms like Netflix or legacy TV networks like the Food Network.
Creators who got their start on social media are building full-fledged media companies with dozens of employees tied to their personal brand. And they’re hiring a wave of attorneys at legacy and newcomer law firms to protect their business interests at the negotiating table and in court.
“[Content creators] have an incredible amount of leverage because they actually built their own audiences and they own their own distribution channel,” said Anita K. Sharma, founding managing partner at Sharma Law, which represents internet stars like TikToker Brad Mondo and YouTube creator Joshua Weissman. “We’re basically general counsel for each talent, and each talent is their own business. Whatever comes up, we handle.”
Insider is compiling a list of the top lawyers who work in the creator industry. The list will be determined by Insider based on our reporting and the nominations that we receive. We will take into consideration an attorney’s clients, deal list, accomplishments, and reputation in the influencer industry.
We want to hear from you. Who are the law firms and attorneys that have been the most effective at working with creators in the past year?
To nearly everyone who met him, James Alexander seemed legit. His resume listed stints at Goldman, RBC and Nomura. He claimed to have started a Swiss merchant bank, and to have worked in business development roles at funds and some of the hottest names in fintech, like Lending Club and Prosper.
“He seemed relatively well-connected,” said Miles Cowan, who worked with Alexander at the defunct startup Ldger. “He knew people at various banks. It helped us get in touch with credit committees.”
But according to a recently filed report by a bankruptcy examiner, it was all a facade. On March 8, an examiner looking into the failure of Cred – Alexander’s most recent company – claimed that Alexander had escaped from a UK prison in 2008 while serving time for fraud. His oversight of Cred’s assets is currently under scrutiny, and the company’s creditors have asked a court to issue a warrant for his arrest.
Alexander’s current whereabouts are unknown to Insider. His lawyer Gary Lincenberg declined to comment and another of his attorneys, Geoffrey Grivner, didn’t respond to an emailed list of questions.
It’s not clear which parts of Alexander’s back story are real. A spokesman for Webster University, whose Geneva campus Alexander says on LinkedIn he graduated from, says a James N. Alexander did graduate from that campus in 1992. In a recent deposition, Alexander said he had no middle name.
Goldman, where Alexander claimed to work at the structured equity products desk in London in the early 1990s, said no one by that name worked in the role described on his LinkedIn page. Alexander said in a deposition that he was an intern at Goldman. After working at Goldman, he claims to have worked at RBC and Nomura; both of those companies didn’t respond to requests for comment.
For much of the 2000s, Alexander claimed to have worked at a company called Alternative Capital Associates, described in his biographies as a “Swiss merchant bank.” But according to the examiner, Alexander was convicted in December 2007 for crimes “related to illegal money transfers” and sentenced to three years and four months. Insider has been unable to obtain the underlying case records. On October 15, 2008,”there was a prison break” at HMP Ford, where Alexander was incarcerated, and he escaped, according to the examiner.
The examiner linked to a news article listing escapees from HMP Ford, an “open prison” that generally allows detainees to come and go and even work outside jobs. The only detainee listed as having escaped on October 15, 2008 is James Demorges. The examiner also cited a name-change document filed in Minnesota; Minnesota state court records show that one James Alexander changed his name in 1994 to James Alexander De Morges, court spokesman Kyle Christopherson told Insider.
A headshot photo of James Demorges released by police in England shows facial features that appear similar to those in photos posted by Alexander on Facebook and LinkedIn.
And in one photo on his Facebook page, Alexander even seemed to make a wry joke about a criminal past. On a 2015 photo of Alexander standing next to what looks like a police officer, a friend commented, “so elegant as usual.” Alexander’s response: “No handcuffs, errrrr as usual.”
Since 2011, Alexander’s LinkedIn indicates he has worked at Prosper Marketplace, Lending Club and Colchis Capital Management, among others. Colchis said he inflated his title and responsibilities; instead of being a partner, which his LinkedIn claims, he had a marketing and investor-relations role, Colchis told Insider.
“It is our standard procedure to perform background checks on employees, which was in place during the time of his employment,” Clara Kim, a Colchis representative, said in an email. She said the company was unaware of the bankruptcy examiner’s report until contacted by Insider.
Prosper and Lending Club didn’t respond to comment requests, and the consumer-products investment firm CircleUp, where Alexander also claims to have worked, declined to comment.
Another employer Alexander mentions on his LinkedIn profile had its own checkered history. The CEO of Direct Lending Investments LLC, a company where Alexander’s LinkedIn profile indicates he worked as Head of Research for a period in 2016, was arrested last fall on federal charges alleging that he fraudulently inflated the value of assets under management. The CEO’s scheme went back as far as 2014, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission. There’s no indication that Alexander was involved.
Alexander has admitted to some people who know him that he was convicted of a crime, according to a person familiar with the matter. But Alexander said that he was not a fugitive, the source told Insider.
Alexander has apparently had no trouble travelling domestically or abroad since his alleged escape from HMP Ford, which is about 15 miles west of Brighton, on England’s south coast. Cred’s creditors said he used company funds for trips to Istanbul and to the ski resorts of Vail, Colorado.
Alexander’s latest troubles arose during bankruptcy proceedings for Cred, a lender that offered dollars to borrowers in exchange for cryptocurrency collateral. Cred’s “disorganized and incomplete” recordkeeping and informal procedures left it vulnerable to volatility, and it began to crumble when the price of bitcoin plunged in March 2020, ultimately filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December, according to the examiner.
Cred has accused Alexander of misappropriating the company’s bitcoin and cash while serving as chief capital officer, a role he was hired for in 2018. The company went bankrupt last year, saying it had lost about 800 bitcoin – now worth about $44 million – that it had placed with an outside asset manager called Quantcoin that Alexander claimed to have vetted.
Cred said in a bankruptcy filing that its litigation with Alexander used up the company’s money and its executives’ attention. In a video deposition taken in February as part of the company’s bankruptcy proceedings, Alexander said he couldn’t remember his first job out of college. Asked nine times what his responsibilities were at Cred, Alexander only responded, “financial services.”
Asked about taking crypto and cash from Cred, he said that he withdrew $60,000 in cash from a Cred account, but said it was to pay taxes and that it was “kept safe.” He later clarified that he meant it was sitting in his Mercedes.
Later in the deposition, Alexander insisted on a brief rest, saying he was still recuperating from a case of COVID-19. “Joe, I’m asking for a break, and you’re being really inhumane,” he told Joe Evans of McDermott Will & Emery, one of the lawyers questioning him.
The two sides agreed to a break. Alexander used it to file for personal bankruptcy.
Ten minutes later, Alexander’s lawyer Geoffrey Grivner returned. “Counsel, I’ve just been advised that Mr. Alexander has filed for personal bankruptcy,” he said. “Our position in light of that filing is that an automatic stay is in place such that this deposition cannot go forward.”
In his personal bankruptcy filings, Alexander has estimated both his assets and liabilities to be in the range of $1 million to $10 million. His assets include a $1.2 million home with a mortgage in the Los Angeles area, a car, cryptocurrency, and some insurance claims.
About a month later, the Cred bankruptcy examiner’s report presented evidence that Alexander had a criminal past. Now, Cred’s creditors are seeking his arrest. Alexander’s response was partly unsealed April 6; in the unsealed portion, his lawyers say he didn’t intentionally violate court orders to produce financial records and turn over Cred assets, but the prison-break allegation isn’t mentioned.
George Floyd was a healthy 46-year-old man before he died in 2020 during a police encounter in Minneapolis, according to the doctor who performed Floyd’s autopsy. And while drug use and preexisting medical conditions may have contributed to his death, it was the encounter with law enforcement that caused it.
“To the best of my knowledge, he was generally healthy on May 25, before the events of that evening,” Dr. Andrew Baker, Hennepin County Chief Medical Examiner, testified Friday during the murder trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin.
Chauvin, who is white, was fired after video captured him placing his knee on Floyd’s neck, an unarmed Black man, for more than nine minutes, despite pleas from Floyd and bystanders to stop. “I can’t breathe,” Floyd said. He was later pronounced dead due to a lack of oxygen.
The former Minneapolis cop is on trial for second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter charges. His defense team has argued Chauvin was merely following department policy — a claim disputed by police — and that Floyd’s drug use contributed to his death.
During his autopsy, Baker said he did not discover any visible damage to Floyd’s heart or brain. And while the examination did reveal that Floyd had COVID-19, it did not uncover any damage to his lungs that would suggest it contributed to his death.
But Floyd did have heart disease and narrow coronary arteries, Baker testified.
“He already has a heart that needs more oxygen than a normal heart,” he said. And a physical encounter with law enforcement is “going to cause stress hormones to pour into your body,” including adrenaline, which is “going to ask your heart to beat faster, it’s going to ask your body for more oxygen.”
Although use of drugs, such as Fentanyl, and preexisting medical conditions may have contributed to Floyd’s death, Baker testified, it was not the cause.
“In my opinion, the law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression was just more than Mr. Floyd could take, by virtue of those heart conditions,” Baker said.
Floyd’s death spurred a summer of civil unrest, with Black Lives Matter protests across the US spurring new efforts to ensure accountability for police who abuse their power.
With work booming across practices, Big Law associates are feeling burned out, wishing they could leave their top-ranking, white-shoe firms in search of better work-life balance.
The pandemic has exacerbated lawyers’ workloads, which were notoriously strenuous to begin with. A growing list of firms, including Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton and Simpson Thacher, have offered associates special bonuses of up to $64,000, which recruiters and other industry experts say are an effort to keep young lawyers from leaving.
One mid-level associate at a New York firm said she and her fellow associates are waiting anxiously to see if their firm will match the special bonuses. Not getting bonuses, she said, is “bad for everyone, because junior associates who can go to other firms will leave, leaving mid-level associates in the lurch. And then mid-levels will leave. It affects the firm’s ability to recruit new associates.”
But even leaving doesn’t offer young associates much solace. Several associates told Insider that burnout is an industry-wide problem. Even if they were to switch firms, they would still face the underlying work culture and expectations of racking up billable hours at law firms. Finding a job outside of Big Law during a pandemic is nearly impossible, some said.
Insider spoke with five associates about how work has changed in the past year. The associates have asked to remain anonymous out of fear of jeopardizing their careers, but their identities are known and verified by Insider.
Here is a selection of their comments, which have been edited for length and clarity.
‘Stretched beyond capacity’
“Everyone is stretched beyond capacity. Any semblance of separation between work and personal life has been obliterated.”
“We have a lot of meetings where partners give lip service to recognizing how hard we are working and how tough this is — it feels like they’re really panicking.”
“I don’t think any of this is necessarily Goodwin specific. It feels like a ton of corporate associates are just shuffling around to other firms that tell them it will be better — and then it’s not.”
— A corporate associate at Goodwin
‘Why do they pay us so much money? It’s for availability.’
“Quarantine Big Law has been particularly difficult because there is no off switch at all. You’re expected to start answering emails anywhere from 6am to 7am, and my current deals go well into the night. I had a call on Friday night from 10pm until midnight. Why do they pay us so much money and why do they give us these huge bonuses? It’s for availability.”
“The hardest part about this job isn’t necessarily the long hours, it’s the unpredictability of the long hours. What looked like a free weekend or free night can quickly turn into an all-nighter. You quarantine for two weeks so you can see your parents, and, as much notice as you give, as much as you prepare for it, the realities of what you’re being paid for is that that can blow up at any moment.”
“If anything, this job seems way more unnecessary now. My family has always been like, ‘This is a crazy job, why are you doing this?’ For a lot of people [the pandemic] has revealed that you don’t need as much money, you don’t need to live in the city, you don’t need to pay an insane amount for an apartment you’re never going to be in. Why not go somewhere more affordable or find a different job that allows you to enjoy the things around you?”
“I had no intention of staying in Big Law, and [the pandemic] has just affirmed this is somewhere I don’t want to stay. I think [the pandemic] is keeping a bunch of people in Big Law who may have left already. It would be very easy to move to the exact same thing under a different name, but to make a more interesting career jump, people are finding it to be a slower process.”
— A current mid-level associate at a Big Law firm in New York
‘I don’t know how to describe when I know to stop working for the day.’
“I don’t know how to describe when I know to stop working for the day. Usually there’s a lull, when everyone else is taking a breather. Pre-pandemic, I would often take a break for dinner around seven or eight and then get back to it. At least in my practice, I was able to avoid weekend work for most weekends — I would probably work one out of every four weekends. But usually it was a 9 a.m.-to-midnight job.”
“Every day was a negotiation of, can I really take a break for 10 minutes to take my dog out or do I have to be glued to my computer in case someone needs something?”
“At Cleary, the fire drills can last two months or more. Some people live in a constant state of fire drill. My longest was maybe two months where I was working nine to midnight or later on weekdays. At [my current firm], the fire drills typically last a week or two at most. Most weeks, I’ll find time for every meal and then be done by seven, and maybe have a half-hour or an hour of work after that.”
“[When I was at Cleary,] my fiance saw how I was tied to my phone when deals got crazy, and she does see that I’m more relaxed since making the switch. There’s just a different level of demand — whether it’s the work culture or just the nature of the work — it’s just on another level.”
“[With] the billable hour model, there’s only so many hours in a day, and in terms of a firm’s interests, to the extent that it’s the kind of matter where there’s no client sensitivity to the fee or how long you spend on it, just get it done well — there’s a real culture of endless work.”
— A former Cleary Gottlieb associate in New York who now works at another Big Law firm
“You wake up, you go to work, you wake up, you go to work”
“In the legal profession, especially Big Law, it’s not uncommon for people to feel burned out. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a junior associate, midlevel, senior associate, even partners.”
“My second year at Davis Polk, I was really burnt out. I then went on a secondment. It really allowed me to evaluate my priorities and also my life. [Then I had] a nine-to-five, whereas earlier I was working whenever I was needed.”
“Being burnt out has so many mental and emotional ramifications. It’s hard to do anything. It’s hard to enjoy life, even, except for work, and it just feels like a dredge. You wake up, you go to work, you wake up, you go to work.”
“My friends who are currently burned out, I can see it. I can see their stress. They’re not sleeping. They don’t feel healthy…. They want to leave because of the burnout, but the irony is, they’re so tired because of the burnout that even if they do want to leave…they don’t have time to work on a resume.”
“It breaks my heart to hear they’re in that space, but it’s there. If it’s not going to happen now, it’s going to happen soon. I just don’t know when.”
— A former associate at Davis Polk
‘Feeling like you’re just way in over your head is hard to feel all the time.’
“It’s been quite busy in the past month. There’s a lot of SPAC activity and other things going on. I think the bonuses were in part driven by how busy everything has been. It’s a lot of different work streams.”
“I’ll wake up at 7:30 or 8 and then check my phone immediately. Lately I’ve been working until 1 or 2. And my weekends have been pretty busy.”
“Sometimes I have three hours of calls, which makes it harder to do the work that you actually have to do.”
“[Pre-pandemic,] I think people wouldn’t be checking their emails so early, or at least people wouldn’t be expected to do things or review things so early. But because everyone’s at home, people are just like, okay, I’ll just ask them now I can expect maybe something a little earlier than I would otherwise.”
“Every day’s a challenge when you’re a new associate. People are expecting you to know how to do things. I think being a first-year associate is pretty hard. Just the mental pressure of not knowing how to do things and feeling like you’re just way in over your head is hard to feel all the time.”
— A junior associate at a Big Law firm in New York
A 25-year-old leader of a neo-Nazi organization linked to murders across the United States has pleaded guilty to federal hate crime and conspiracy charges after threatening journalists and others who worked to expose anti-Semitism.
Cameron Shea was arrested in March 2020 and charged with conspiring to intimidate members of the press and the Anti-Defamation League in Washington state, as The Guardian’s Jason Wilson reported. In charging documents, the Department of Justice described him as a “high-level member and primary recruiter” for the Atomwaffen Division.
The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the group, founded in 2015, as “a terrorist neo-Nazi organization” whose members believe in using violence to accelerate the collapse of society.
Members of the group have been linked to a string of violent hate crimes. After one member was charged in 2018 with killing Blaze Bernstein, a gay, Jewish college student in California, Google, Discord, and other technology companies moved to bar the organization from using their platforms, which had been used to spread propaganda and organize illicit activities.
The US Department of Justice, in a statement on Wednesday, said Shea and three co-defendants conspired online to “identify journalists and advocates they wanted to threaten in retaliation for the victims’ work exposing anti-Semitism,” focusing primarily on Jews and reporters of color. Targets in Tampa, Seattle, and Phoenix were then mailed posters featuring Nazi symbols and threats of pending violence.
“We will be postering journalists houses and media buildings to send a clear message that we too have leverage over them,” Shea said in a November 2019 group chat, the Associated Press reported. The targets were chosen for their critical work on far-right extremists.
A poster sent to an employee of the Anti-Defamation League featured a “Grim Reaper-like figure wearing a skeleton mask holding a Molotov cocktail,” according to the Justice Department, with text reading: “Our Patience Has Its Limits . . . You have been visited by your local Nazis.”
Last fall, two other members of the group pleded guilty to involvement in the conspiracy. And in July 2020, another admitted to making false claims to police that led to SWAT teams arriving at the homes of reporters, Seattle-area NBC affiliate KING 5 reported.
In March, a 20-year-old Atomwaffen member, John William Kirby Kelley, was handed a 33-month prison sentence for hosting the chat room where such activities were planned, according to The Washington Post. Other targets included Black churches and a former Trump Homeland Security chief, Kristjen Nielsen.
Another member of the conspiracy, Taylor Parker-Dipeppe, pleaded guilty to distributing a poster in Florida — at the wrong address — and last month received a sentence of time served. According to their attorney, Parker-Dipeppe was kicked out of the neo-Nazi group after coming out as transgender.
Shea will be sentenced in June 2021. He faces up to 15 years in prison.
Emily Langlie, a spokesperson for the Justice Department, declined to state whether Shea is cooperating with authorities, citing department policy.
An alleged co-conspirator, Kaleb Cole, has pleaded not guilty and is due to face trial in September, she said.
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Basha Rubin was in labor when she negotiated the term sheet for her Series A.
In May last year, Rubin hashed out investment details for Priori Legal, an attorney hiring platform for companies, clutching her phone as her partner drove them to the hospital.
“They were on these curvy roads and she had the phone like this,” said her co-founder Mirra Levitt, holding her palms out in front of her face. “It was like watching a video game.”
Experiences like Rubin’s are not uncommon among working women, who often face hurdles that their male colleagues don’t. This is especially the case in law and tech — two industries that have historically struggled with diversity. Women make up only 31% of nonequity partners and 20% of equity partners in the 200 largest law firms, per data from the American Bar Association. In the tech world, just 28% of startups have a female founder, according to a 2019 Silicon Valley Bank report.
The numbers are bleaker when you look at the intersection of the two industries: There are only 14.5% female founders of legal tech companies, according to a study by Kristen Sonday, cofounder of the legal tech platform Paladin.
Female legal tech founders receive less funding
Although venture capital investments in startups increased by 13% last year, women-founded companies received only 2.2% of funding in 2020, according to data from Pitchbook.
“The tech world seems so male-dominated not necessarily because there are so many more male founders. It’s because the male founders are so much more well-funded than the female founders,” said Rubin.
Priori Legal, which raised $6.3 million in its Series A, was “tremendously lucky” to have the backing of the female-founded accelerator HearstLab, according to Levitt.
“It’s odd because the legal industry still felt like more of a safe space for me, where I felt like people were more open to treating me as a professional as a woman,” said Alma Asay, founder of Allegory Law. “When I was raising money, I remember one investor saying, ‘You’re new to Palo Alto. You’ll meet a lot of great guys out here.’ And I thought, why are we talking about this? I’m trying to pitch you.”
Three founders told Insider that investors asked them about their family plans during pitch meetings.
Hearing comments like these made Asay feel deflated. “I could take all the advice in the world and change my pitch deck, the way that I presented, but the one thing I couldn’t change is that I’m a woman,” she said.
Erin Levine said she held off on raising money when she first launched Hello Divorce because she expected to face this kind of bias from investors. Instead, she did a lot more bootstrapping, “partly because we had to, since women don’t get funded as much as men do.”
Laura Safdie, a lawyer who founded Casetext, said she didn’t encounter sexism while pitching to investors. But she says that’s “very possibly” because her cofounder and CEO is male.
‘Clients feel more comfortable hiring companies that are male-run’
Legal tech female founders face similar challenges when pitching their products to clients, a task that’s already made difficult by the relatively tech-resistant legal industry.
“As a female-run business, it’s very apparent that clients feel more comfortable hiring companies that are male-run,” said Nicole Bradick, the founder of Theory and Principle. She recalled an instance when a chief information officer of a firm said he won’t meet with women unless other people aren’t in the room, because he didn’t trust them otherwise.
Bradick said she once lost business because she rejected a romantic advance, but added that these “horrendous” incidents are not common.
On the other hand, acting as a salesperson in legal tech can be an “equalizer,” said Julia Shapiro, founder of Hire an Esquire.
“You’re the main salesperson as the founder. Law firms are used to both men and women selling products to them,” Shapiro said. “They can be equally mean to both — they’re skeptical of vendors in general, and will cross-examine them.”
Pushing for diversity in legal tech
Despite the barriers they’ve faced in the tech world, the women who spoke to Insider said they are taking steps to instill diversity within the companies they run — and the industry writ large.
Asay said she placed particular emphasis on hiring women at Allegory Law, though it didn’t come easy given the dearth of female engineers and some of her own internal biases.
“I almost didn’t extend a woman an offer because the way she was coming across wasn’t as assertive, self-promoting, and confident as a man would,” she said. “I had to check myself, because this right here is the problem. Women have some imposter syndrome and don’t themselves up as much, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t have the same — or more — talent.”
In addition to ensuring accountability among partners at law firms and from clients, the growing community of female founders in legal tech are taking steps to support diversity within their companies.
“As a female founder, one thing that’s really empowering is to build a company and set a culture that aligns with my values,” said Casetext’s Safdie. “It’s not easy. It’s something you have to keep doing over and over and not let backslide.”