Tesla’s legal department leaves Musk with a slimmed down legal bench

Tesla Inc.The split from another head of the legal department leaves Elon Musk, its co-founder and chief executive, with a thinned legal bench as he faces legal challenges.

At least a dozen company attorneys have left their posts this year, according to three people familiar with Tesla’s operations. They include some attorneys who worked in business units outside of legal, including human resources and tax, the people said.

The company has no attorney or legal officer among its top three executives and has been without a permanent general counsel since December 2019.

“The GC should be a direct report to the CEO and a core member of the C-suite senior leadership team for any company that is serious about merging performance, integrity, and risk management,” said Benjamin Heineman Jr., an expert in corporate governance. and former General Counsel of General Electric Co.

Those who have worked with Musk over the years praise him as an eccentric genius, but also as someone whose background in technology has led him to value engineers more than lawyers who work in a profession with which he s is disputed in and out of court or across the bargaining table.

David Searle, the head of the legal department who led an internal investigation into the electric vehicle maker’s purchase orders, left his post less than a month ago, Bloomberg reported on Aug. 17, citing three people familiar with the matter. . Tesla in a tweet from his verified account denied that Searle left the company.

Searle had been tasked with an internal investigation into Lt. Musk Omead Afshar’s role in a scheme to purchase hard-to-obtain building materials, Bloomberg reported on July 21.

Dinna Eskin, who joined Tesla in 2017 after serving as a top lawyer at the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute in Albany, New York, took over as head of the service. legal, three sources said. She is at least the company’s fifth-best lawyer since 2019 and seventh since late 2018.

Musk’s public proclamations have alienated some former supporters and caught the attention of government officials. He also faces a lawsuit from Twitter Inc. over its scuttled $44 billion bid for the social media company.

Shareholder complaints

Shareholders have raised concerns in recent years about the lack of a dedicated general counsel or general counsel at Tesla.

An unsealed complaint last year in a Delaware spin-off lawsuit filed against Tesla by investor Chase Gharrity accused the company’s board of directors of failing to ensure the automaker had an “independent general counsel who can provide advice untainted by Musk” and “who could provide advice on what was in Tesla’s best interest.

Tesla’s longest-serving legal chief was Todd Maron, a former divorce attorney from Musk, who left in late 2018 after nearly five years as general counsel. Maron is now the top lawyer at medical wear startup FIGS Inc.

Tesla has tapped Dane Butswinkas, a former personal attorney for Musk, to replace Maron. Butswinkas spent two months in the role before resigning in early 2019 to return to law firm Williams & Connolly.

Jonathan Chang succeeded Butswinkas as general counsel until he too stepped down from the company in December 2019.

Chang, now chief legal officer of artificial intelligence startup SambaNova Systems Inc., was the last Tesla general counsel to not have the word “act” in its title.

Tesla then turned to former auto safety engineer Alan Prescott, who had worked in the legal departments of Ford Motor Co. and Uber Technologies Inc., to become its acting general counsel. Prescott left Tesla last year for Luminar Technologies Inc., a maker of sensor technology used in driverless cars that gave him a salary of about $30 million to be its legal group leader.

Bill Berry, a longtime Google attorney from Alphabet Inc. who joined Tesla in 2020 as head of litigation, replaced Prescott. Berry, who recently became general counsel for cloud security firm Verkada Inc., left Tesla late last year.

In January, former Tesla human resources manager Valerie Capers Workman joined career placement services startup Handshake as a top lawyer. Workman had been one of the best black executives in the business.

Hiring via Twitter

Tesla – and more publicly, Musk – have moved to replenish the company’s legal ranks.

michelle munro

Photo: Rodrigo Buendia/AFP via Getty Images

Musk took to Twitter in May to discuss Tesla’s plans to create a “hard-core litigation department” that will report directly to him. In a July interview, Musk said his call for new legal recruits had been heard.
“A lot of really talented lawyers have kind of sent in their resumes, and we’re going through that,” he told the “Getting Stoned” podcast. “We’re going to hire a bunch of people who responded to my tweet.”

An online job board at Tesla currently lists openings for a dozen US legal and government affairs positions in Austin, Texas, and Fremont, California.
Tesla has hired a new chief compliance officer in the person of Michael Munro, the former chief compliance officer of Odebrecht SA, a Brazilian engineering and construction giant.

Munro, who was also a longtime lawyer in the oil and gas industry, works at Tesla’s new headquarters in Austin. he previously spoke about his compliance efforts at Odebrecht, which went bankrupt and restructured its operations following a corruption scandal.

Derek Windham, assistant general counsel for corporate and securities, who was most recently a corporate governance expert at Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co., joined Munro at Tesla.

Neither Munro nor Windham responded to requests for comment.

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