Hot Topics in Business Law

Mar 2, 2018 |

Article 1: “Airbnb Says It Won’t Go Public This Year As Top Exec Departs”

According to the article, Airbnb will not go public this year.

Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky set the record straight while announcing the departure of the company’s chief financial officer Laurence Tosi in a recent blog post.

The news follows a report from tech news site The Information that alleged tensions between Chesky and Tosi, who had been at the company for two and a half years.

Chesky, who has previously hinted at a 2018 public offering, made a definitive statement about an IPO in the post.

“We are not going public in 2018,” he wrote. “Our primary focus is becoming a 21st-century company and advancing our mission. We’re working on getting ready to go public and we will make decisions about going public on our own timetable.”

Airbnb, the short-term rental company valued at $31 billion, is the second most valuable U.S. startup in the world behind Uber.

Airbnb and Uber both are currently operating without CFOs. The CEOs of both companies have expressed that they will not go public this year.

In addition to the IPO update, Chesky announced the elevation of Airbnb’s Belinda Johnson into a new role: chief operating officer.

Johnson previously served as the company’s chief business affairs and legal officer. Her role at the company has been likened to that of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, or the “woman behind the man who runs Airbnb,” as one article about Johnson put it.

“Belinda and I often approach things differently, and this is one of the reasons we’ve worked so well together over the years,” Chesky wrote. “I learn from her every day, and I’m a better leader because she is my partner.”

Last week, Airbnb announced that outgoing American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault will join the company’s board. Chenault recently joined the board of Facebook, as well.

Discussion Questions

1. What does it mean for a company to “go public?” What is an initial public offering?

A company that decides to “go public” is determined to issue securities (stock) for outside investor purchase. The company will no longer be “closely held,” meaning that the company will no longer be owned exclusively by its incorporators.

An initial public offering represents the first publicly traded stock issued by the company.

2. Discussion the advantage(s) of a company going public.

The decision to go public can result in a major infusion of capital (cash) for a company, particularly if the company’s stock is in great demand.

3. Discuss the disadvantage(s) of a company going public.

Once a company decides to trade its stock publicly, it is subject to scrutiny by federal and state authorities, particularly the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).


Article 2: “Natalie Wood’s Husband Robert Wagner Now ‘Person of Interest’ in Her Death”

According to the article, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s investigators say Robert Wagner is “more of a person of interest” in the death of actress Natalie Wood, who died nearly 40 years ago under mysterious circumstances.

“As we’ve investigated the case over the last six years, I think he’s more of a person of interest now,” Lt. John Corina the media. “I mean, we now know that he was the last person to be with Natalie before she disappeared.”

Wood, who starred in “West Side Story” and “Rebel Without a Cause,” was found dead in the water in 1981, near Santa Catalina Island off the coast of California. She had gone on a yachting weekend with Wagner, as well as Christopher Walken, who at the time was starring with the actress in the movie “Brainstorm,” and Dennis Davern, the boat’s captain.

Wood’s death was originally ruled an accident, but the case was reopened in 2011. The coroner changed her cause of death to “drowning and other undetermined factors” the following year.

Detectives who spoke to the media said an autopsy report indicated there were a number of bruises on Wood’s body that appeared to have been fresh at the time of death.

“She looked like a victim of an assault,” Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Detective Ralph Hernandez said, noting that the marks made “it suspicious enough to make us think that something happened.”

Investigators said Wagner — who was married to Wood twice, first from 1957 to 1962, and again from 1972 until her death — has been uncooperative since they reopened the case.

“I haven’t seen him tell the details that match all the other witnesses in this case,” Corina said of Wagner. “I think he’s constantly changed his story a little bit. And his version of events just don’t add up.”

Walken, however, has spoken with investigators.

Wagner wrote in his 2008 memoir, Pieces of My Heart, that “nobody knows” how Wood died.
There was a lot of drinking that night, he wrote. He said he and Walken also got into a fight about Wood’s career path.

“I picked up a wine bottle, slammed it on the table and broke it into pieces,” he wrote.

As to how Wood ended up in the water, Wagner said: “There are only two possibilities: either she was trying to get away from the argument, or she was trying to tie the dinghy. But the bottom line is that nobody knows exactly what happened.”  

Discussion Questions

1. As the article indicates, Natalie Wood died in 1981, almost four decades ago. Is there a statute of limitations period to charge and convict someone for murder? If not, should there be?

A statute of limitations period effectively limits the time in which a prosecutor or plaintiff can pursue a cause of action against a defendant. There is no statute of limitations period for murder. In terms of whether there should be such a limitation, student opinions may vary.

2. In the event that Robert Wagner is charged with murder in the death of Natalie Wood, discuss the relative strength (or weakness) of the prosecution’s case.

In your author’s opinion, it would be very difficult for the prosecution in this case to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Not only has it been almost forty years since Ms. Wood’s death, but any case against Robert Wagner would be based on circumstantial evidence without the benefit of an eyewitness.

3. As the article indicates, investigators claim that Robert Wagner has been uncooperative since the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department reopened the case in 2011. From a legal standpoint, is such non-cooperation evidence of guilt? Why or why not?

The defendant’s lack of cooperation with the prosecution is not evidence of guilt. In a criminal case, due process ensures that the defendant is not required to assist the prosecution in proving its case.

Article 3: “Florida’s Scheme for Restoring Felons’ Voting Rights Rule Unconstitutional”

According to the article, in a landmark ruling with far-reaching implications, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker has found Florida’s scheme for restoring the voting rights of felons unconstitutional.

Walker, in a 43-page order issued recently, found that Florida “automatically disenfranchises” any individual who has been convicted of a felony and wishes to vote.

“Florida strips the right to vote from every man and woman who commits a felony,” Walker wrote. “To vote again, disenfranchised citizens must kowtow before a panel of high-level government officials over which Florida’s governor has absolute veto authority. No standards guide the panel. Its members alone must be satisfied that these citizens deserve restoration.”

The ruling came as part of a lawsuit brought by James Michael Hand and eight other former felons who completed their sentences, including probation, but were not deemed eligible to vote.

“In Florida, elected, partisan officials have extraordinary authority to grant or withhold the right to vote from hundreds of thousands of people without any constraints, guidelines or standards. The question now is whether such a system passes constitutional muster. It does not,” Walker wrote in his ruling.

Walker took aim at Governor Rick Scott, whom the nine plaintiffs sued along with Florida’s Executive Clemency Board. The board consists of the governor, the attorney general, the chief financial officer and the agriculture commissioner.

“‘We can do whatever we want,’ the governor said at one clemency hearing,” Walker wrote. “One need not search long to find alarming illustrations of this scheme in action.”
Walker wrote that in 2010, a white man, Steven Warner, cast an illegal ballot. Three years later, he sought the restoration of his voting rights before the state’s Executive Clemency Board. Scott asked him at the time about his illegal voting. When the man said he voted for Scott, the governor laughed. A few seconds later, Scott granted the man his voting rights, Walker wrote.

“The question is whether the Clemency Board’s limitless power over plaintiffs’ vote restoration violates their First Amendment rights to free association and free expression. It does,” Walker wrote. “This should not be a close question.”

The Governor’s Office responded to the order by noting that the Clemency Board has been in place for decades and overseen by multiple governors.

“The process is outlined in Florida’s Constitution, and today’s ruling departs from precedent set by the United States Supreme Court,” said John Tupps, a spokesperson for Scott. “The Governor believes that convicted felons should show that they can lead a life free of crime and be accountable to their victims and our communities. While we are reviewing today’s ruling, we will continue to defend this process in the court.”

The Fair Elections Legal Network and Cohen, Milstein, Sellers & Toll, which has offices in Florida, filed the lawsuit in March on behalf of a proposed class of nearly 1.5 million former felons, according to a news release from the voting rights group and the law firm.

“Today a federal court said what so many Floridians have known for so long — that the state’s arbitrary restoration process, which forces former felons to beg for their right to vote, violates the oldest and most basic principles of our democracy,” said Jon Sherman, senior counsel for the Fair Elections Legal Network.

Tallahassee attorney Reggie Garcia, who represents felons who seek restoration of their rights, said any federal court ruling that interprets Florida’s constitution and the application of clemency power and rules will increase awareness of the state’s convicted felons.

“This is very timely with last week’s decision by the Division of Elections to put Amendment 4, granting automatic voting rights to most felons, on the November 2018 ballot,” he said.

Walker noted several instances “of former felons who professed political views amenable to the board’s members, who then received voting rights, while those who expressed contrary political views to the board were denied those same rights.”

He went on to say that “viewpoint discrimination is deeply antithetical to the constitution and our nation’s longstanding values.”

Hand, a resident of Cutler Bay in South Florida, was convicted of a felony in state court and released from prison in 1986, according to court records. He completed his sentence in 2002 and later applied to get his voting rights back.

During a Clemency Board hearing in 2011, his application was denied. Scott cited his record of traffic tickets and said, “Congratulations on turning your life around. Congratulations on your business. In light of the significant issue — you know, traffic violations — and your inability to comply with the law in that manner, I’m going to deny you restoration of civil rights at this time,” court record state.

Walker also found the lack of time limits in processing and deciding vote restoration unconstitutional. He noted the Clemency Board “may defer restoration of rights for years or forever. Indefinite can-kicking is not some Floridian fairy tale like a line-less Space Mountain.

The board regularly invokes some unknown future date as the appropriate time to revisit a restoration denial.”

He cited one case in which Scott told a 54-year-old man he would have to wait 50 years before he could reapply for his voting rights to be restored. The judge also detailed the case of Virginia Kay Atkins. Ten years after her release from prison, Scott informed her he did not feel “comfortable” restoring her rights.

Walker’s order notes that 154,000 citizens had their voting rights restored during the last four years of former Governor Charlie Crist’s administration. He said that number plummeted to fewer than 3,000 people since Scott took office in 2011.

“The context of these numbers is not lost on the court,” Walker wrote. “More than one-tenth of Florida’s voting population — nearly 1.7 million as of 2016 — cannot vote because they have been decimated from the body politic. More than one in five of Florida’s African American voting-age population cannot vote.”

Walker did not offer a remedy but set a February 12 deadline for both sides to provide additional briefs on how to fix the unconstitutional “voter-restoration scheme.”

Discussion Questions

1. In your reasoned opinion, should convicted felons have voting rights? Why or why not?

This is an opinion question, so student responses will likely vary.

2. What is the specific legal basis for challenging Florida’s current framework for restoring the voting rights of convicted felons?

As the article indicates, the specific legal basis for challenging Florida’s current framework for restoring the voting rights of convicted felons is the First Amendment to the United States Constitution’s guarantees of free association and free expression. As identified by United States District Judge Mark Walker, “(t)he question is whether the Clemency Board’s limitless power over plaintiffs’ vote restoration violates their First Amendment rights to free association and free expression.”

3. As the article indicates, according to United States District Judge Mark Walker’s ruling, “To vote again, disenfranchised citizens must kowtow before a panel of high-level government officials over which Florida’s governor has absolute veto authority. No standards guide the panel (Emphasis added). Its members alone must be satisfied that these citizens deserve restoration.” In your reasoned opinion, what (if any) specific standards should exist to better ensure that Florida’s system for restoring the voting rights of convicted felons is legal, equitable and ethical?

This is an opinion question, so student responses will likely vary.