Plane Crash Changed Everything for Oilfield Tech Company’s General Counsel

Tim Johnson, general counsel of Houston-based Peak Completion Technologies, was devastated when the company’s found died in a plane crash, reports the Houston Chronicle.

But things got worse when “Johnson reviewed documents showing that founder Ray Hofman had been secretly siphoning off millions and millions of company dollars to pay for his ever more extravagant lifestyle, which included buying vintage military airplanes, a $250,000 pirate ship for his backyard and a fleet of Ferraris, Bentleys and Porsches,” according to the report.

Mark Curriden of the Texas Lawbook reports on the GC’s investigation and subsequent $20 million lawsuit alleging fraud, breach of fiduciary duty and gross negligence against Hofman’s estate and the accounting firms that looked the other way.

Read the Houston Chronicle article.



Orano USA appoints Michael Woods as General Counsel

Orano USA announced the appointment of Michael Woods as its new general counsel, effective April 15, 2019.

Prior to joining Orano, Woods served as general counsel for Sol Systems, a solar energy finance and development firm based in Washington, DC; was a partner in the Energy and Corporate practice groups in the Washington, DC office of Kirkland & Ellis; and worked as an attorney in the Office of the General Counsel at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Woods is admitted to the Bars of the District of Columbia and the State of Georgia. He earned his J.D. with honors (Order of the Coif) from Emory University School of Law in Atlanta, Georgia. At the University of Florida, Woods graduated with a B.S. in Business Administration, Finance, and with a B.A. in Spanish.

Woods is based at the Orano USA corporate office in Washington, DC.

Orano USA is a technology and services provider for used nuclear fuel management, decommissioning shutdown nuclear energy facilities, federal site cleanup and closure, and the sale of uranium, conversion, and enrichment services to the U.S. commercial and federal markets. Orano Med is developing targeted alpha therapy to fight cancer.



‘Brilliant and Inspirational’ In-House Lawyer Killed in Sri Lanka Blasts

Anita Nicholson, in-house counsel at mining company Anglo American in Singapore, was killed along with her two children in an explosion at the Shangri La hotel in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, according to The Law Society Gazette.

Her husband Ben Nicholson, also a solicitor, survived the attack, one of at least seven terrorist attacks reported in churches and luxury hotels in the capital city of Colombo.

“Anita was a wonderful, perfect wife and a brilliant, loving and inspirational mother to our two wonderful children,” Ben Nicholson said in a statement.

The Law Society reported that Anita Jane Nicholson was admitted in 2000. Her LinkedIn profile states she was a regulatory and compliance managing counsel at Anglo American and previously held roles at BP and HM Treasury. She also had been a solicitor at international law firm DLA Piper in London.

Read the Gazette article.



State Department Lawyer Who Drafted Patriot Act is New Facebook GC

Facebook announced that it’s bringing in a new general counsel as it tries to rebuild its image following a year filled with scandals, according to a CNBC report.

Jennifer Newstead, legal adviser to the U.S. State Department, is joining the company as its general counsel, replacing Colin Stretch, who said last year that he would be departing.

“Newstead brings some controversy with her,” writes CNBC’s Ari Levy. “As part of the George W. Bush administration in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Newstead helped draft the Patriot Act, which granted law enforcement agencies greater surveillance power over ordinary Americans.”

Read the CNBC article.



University’s General Counsel Suspended, Gets 30 Days in Jail for Court Behavior

Bowling Green State University’s top lawyer was placed on leave Friday and will begin serving a 30-day jail sentence Monday after a Wood County judge found him to be in contempt of court while representing himself during his divorce hearings, according to The Toledo Blade.

The Blade‘s Allison Dunn explains:

Sean P. FitzGerald, 58, who is employed as the university’s general counsel and vice president, was sentenced by visiting Judge Stephen Yarbrough following a series of misbehavior incidents while representing himself in the Wood County Common Pleas Court Domestic Relations Division in the divorce from his wife, Margaret A. FitzGerald.

Read the Toledo Blade article.



Former SeaWorld Associate GC Pleads Guilty to Insider Trading

SeaWorld Entertainment’s former associate general counsel, who was fired last October, pleaded guilty Tuesday to a federal charge of insider trading that allowed him to make nearly $65,000 from a stock sale last year, The San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

Paul B. Powers, 60, entered his plea before a U.S. district judge in Florida. Sentencing has not yet been determined, writes the Union-Tribune‘s Lori Weisberg.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said that it had also charged Powers with insider trading based on confidential information he received that SeaWorld’s revenue would be better than anticipated for the second quarter of 2018.

Read the Union-Tribune article.



Halliburton’s Top Lawyer Helps Fend Off Billions in Lawsuits

During his five years as Halliburton’s top lawyer, Robb Voyles has won two cases at the U.S. Supreme Court, successfully concluded a nine-figure tax dispute with its former KBR subsidiary and convinced the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to end its investigation of the company without a fraud finding.

Mark Curriden of the Texas Lawbook, writing for the Houston Chronicle, profiles the chief legal officer, one of the most senior and respected executives at Halliburton and widely recognized as a leader of the legal profession.

Just three weeks ago, Voyles won what may have been his sweetest victory yet — and it involves the first case that brought Voyles to the attention of Halliburton executives, Curriden writes. Chief U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn of Dallas officially dismissed the final remnants of a nearly two-decade-old securities class-action lawsuit.

Read the Houston Chronicle article.



After Years of Apologies for Customer Abuses, Wells Fargo CEO Suddenly Quits; GC Takes Over

Wells Fargo general counsel C. Allen Parker will take over as interim president and chief executive of the company after the abrupt departure of chief executive Tim Sloan on Thursday.

Sloan had spent more than two years trying without success to convince lawmakers and regulators that the embattled bank is no longer a threat to its customers, according to Renae Merle of The Washington Post.

“Sloan spent more than two years on an countrywide apology tour after Wells Fargo acknowledged a pattern of consumer abuses — from opening millions of fraudulent accounts on behalf of its customers without their consent to mistakenly foreclosing on hundreds of clients and repossessing the cars of thousands of others. Sloan’s pleas often failed to win over frustrated lawmakers,” Merle writes.

Read the Post article.



Event: Digital Transformation in Corporate Legal Departments

Computer technologyMorae Global and SimpleLegal will present a breakfast and a panel discussion offering a practical look at digital transformation in corporate legal departments.

The complimentary event will be Wednesday, April 3, 2019, 7:30-9 a.m. CDT, Wells Fargo Plaza, 1000 Louisiana Street, Ground Floor Auditorium, Houston, TX 77002.

Digital transformation has become a rallying cry for business and technology strategists, the sponsors said in a release. Unfortunately, only 19 percent of in-house legal teams are well positioned to support enterprise digital efforts (Gartner). This presents a great opportunity for legal departments to use new technologies to reduce operating costs, increase productivity, and deliver enhanced new services to their company and adhere to regulatory and compliance obligations.

The event will cover:

  • The Way We Work – Rethinking workflows and ensuring that the right people are doing the right work.
  • Transformative Use of Technology – Considering how to leverage digital technologies in transforming work, collaboration and business facilitation.
  • Use of Data Analytics – How businesses can identify previously unknown correlations among data to better predict outcomes, optimize delivery, mitigate risk, and tailor solutions to consumer demands and expectations.
  • Change Management and Adoption – Best practices on leveraging change management to assist in the successful digital transformation of the legal department.

The panel will consist of Russ Dempsey (AGC at AIG), Ben Chrisman (AGC at Gridliance) and Ryan Murphy (Director of Legal Operations at LyondellBasell).

Register for the event.



Rockefeller Foundation Names Maria Santos Valentin New GC

The Rockefeller Foundation announced that Maria Santos Valentin has been named general counsel and corporate secretary for the foundation.

Valentin joined the foundation from the Soros Economic Development Fund – part of the Open Society Foundations – where she served as secretary and general counsel. In her new role, Valentin will oversee and advise the foundation on a broad range of legal matters, the foundation said in a news release.

Valentin has worked with the Open Society Institute since its inception in 1998. During her tenure, she has structured and negotiated more than 40 innovative program-related investments around the world, primarily in Central and Eastern Europe, India, Africa and the Middle East, which totaled over $200 million. The investments focused on increasing financial inclusion around the world and improving the lives of smallholder farmers, refugees and migrants. Valentin also served as deputy general counsel for the Open Society Institute, also part of the Open Society Foundations.

“Maria brings a cogent combination of global legal experience and governance knowledge,” said Dr. Rajiv J. Shah, president of The Rockefeller Foundation. “Her experience structuring impact investments to have the maximum social outcome for poor and vulnerable communities will be an invaluable asset to The Rockefeller Foundation as we continue to identify opportunities to drive large-scale human impact through solutions in data, technology and innovative finance. I’m confident that Maria will be an exceptional advisor and am thrilled to welcome her to our leadership team.”

“I am delighted to be joining The Rockefeller Foundation as General Counsel,” said Valentin. “I look forward to using my experience to help the Foundation achieve deeper impact. It is a great privilege to be a part of an institution with such a deep and long history of generating and catalyzing positive social change, and to join Dr. Shah’s senior leadership team in achieving the Foundation’s new strategic vision in the U.S. and around the world.”

Prior to her work at the Soros Economic Development Fund, Valentin spent a decade working as an international corporate securities lawyer, first for Brown & Wood, based in the United States, and then Clifford Chance, based in the United Kingdom. In that capacity, Valentin worked on emerging market capital markets transactions in Central and Eastern Europe and Latin America. She is a graduate of Fordham University and received a J.D. from Yale Law School.

“Maria has been an instrumental player in the growth and development of the Open Society Foundations,” said Patrick Gaspard, president of the Open Society Foundations. “Her expertise and experience range far and wide – from the nitty gritty of philanthropic governance issues to the cutting-edge aspects of impact investing to advance social good. We are grateful for all that she has done to advance our work at Open Society, wish her every success in her exciting new opportunity as general counsel at Rockefeller, and look forward to continued partnership in the years to come.”

Valentin will assume her new role on April 29, 2019.



Above the Law’s Outside Counsel Rankings: GCs Reveal Their Go-To Firms

Above the Law has published the results of its 2019 Outside Counsel Rankings, based on surveys of in-house counsel at top companies.

Approximately 1,000 in-house lawyers — from nearly 500 companies and more than 40 cities — responded with evaluations of their outside law firms. The survey asked two questions: 1.) “Which law firms does your company engage for legal services?” and 2.) “Please indicate the highest level legal work for which your company will engage the particular firm(s).”

Responses led to the rankings, in which 50 firms were grouped in two tiers.

See Above the Law’s rankings.



Monica Johnson Joins Bonduelle U.S. Leadership Team as General Counsel

Bonduelle Fresh Americas, formerly Ready Pac Foods, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Bonduelle, announced the appointment of Monica Johnson, general counsel, to its Executive Committee, the business unit’s senior leadership team.

Johnson joined the company in October 2018 and was appointed to the senior leadership team in January. She is responsible for providing professional legal advice and representation for all legal, regulatory and government matters affecting the business. As part of her role, she also provides legal advice and support to Bonduelle Americas Long Life, the company’s North American canned and frozen business unit based in Canada, the company said in a release.

“Monica’s deep legal experience with a variety of industries, as well as her government affairs background, bring great diversity to the Bonduelle Fresh Americas leadership team,” said Bonduelle Fresh Americas CEO Mary Thompson. “The general counsel role is an important one for Bonduelle Fresh Americas and she has made a positive impact on many areas of the business in her short tenure here.”

The company said Johnson brings more than 15 years of legal experience to Bonduelle in a broad range of industries, including foodservice, technology, manufacturing and supply chain/logistics. Prior to joining Bonduelle, she was assistant general counsel and assistant corporate secretary at Ventura Foods, LLC, a privately held manufacturer and distributor of branded and private-label food products, including dressings, oils, sauces, dips, shortening, margarine, butter blends, mayonnaises, and flavor bases. Before Ventura Foods, Johnson was senior counsel at Western Digital, served as corporatecounsel of BAX Global and was an associate at the law firm Theodora Oringher and Yoka & Smith.

Johnson has government affairs experience as well, having served in the administrations of three California governors. Most recently she served for eight years on the California Board of Optometry as an appointee of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, as vice chair partnering with board members to protect the public and regulate the profession of optometry.



Comcast Hires Davis Polk Chair Reid as General Counsel

Bloomberg Law is reporting that Comcast has hired Thomas J. Reid, chair and managing partner of Davis Polk & Wardwell, as its newest general counsel.

Reid will succeed Arthur Block, who is retiring after 30 years at Comcast and two decades as its general counsel.

Reid began his career at Davis Polk in 1987 and has served as the law firm’s lead partner with Comcast for nearly four years, representing the company through numerous high profile transactions including its acquisition of the British satellite company Sky last year, according to Bloomberg’s Stephanie Russell-Kraft.

Read the Bloomberg Law article.



Tesla’s General Counsel Lasts Only Two Months

CNN reports that Tesla’s general counsel is leaving the company after just two months on the job — the latest in a series of executive departures at Elon Musk’s electric car company.

The company quickly announced a replacement for Dane Butswinkas, who joined Tesla in December. He will return to his legal practice at Williams & Connolly in Washington. His replacement is Jonathan Chang, who previously served as Tesla’s vice president of legal. Chang has worked at Tesla for almost eight years.

Bloomberg is reporting that Butswinkas was hired in the wake of Musk’s run-in with U.S. securities regulators. Hours before announcement of the GC’s departure, the chief executive officer was sending tweets reminiscent of those that put him and the company in legal jeopardy last year, according to the Bloomberg report.

Read the CNN article.



Frank E. Pasquesi Named GC of Western Golf Association Evans Scholars Foundation

Frank E. Pasquesi, partner with Foley & Lardner and office managing partner of the firm’s Chicago office, was recently appointed general counsel of the Western Golf Association Evans Scholars Foundation.

Pasquesi is a former Chick Evans Scholar of Northwestern University.



Fired Hershey IP Attorney Sues Alleging Race, Age, Sex Bias

Kurt Ehresman, 52-year-old former senior counsel for global intellectual property at Hershey Co., has sued his ex-employer, claiming he was replaced with a younger, black, female lawyer in a case of race, age and sex bias.

Ehresman, who is white, filed suit Feb. 6 with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, according to a Bloomberg Law report.

Bloomberg’s Patrick Dorrian writes:

“The move came roughly five years after Hershey recruited him to be ‘the first licensed practice attorney’ in the candymaker’s more than 100-year history, Ehresman charges in the complaint. And it required him to give up his ‘entire portfolio of clients’ and private practice as a condition of joining Hershey, Ehresman says.”

Read the Bloomberg Law article.




MSU Will Pay Fired GC Almost $1 Million Not to Work for Them

Bob Young, fired last week as Michigan State University’s general counsel, will receive at least $990,402 in departing the university, school spokeswoman Emily Guerrant said Wednesday.

The Detroit Free Press reports that Young, the university’s top lawyer, had a three-year contract that paid $425,000 a year in salary. The lump sum paid off the balance of the contract.

“Young had been brought in by interim President John Engler to guide the school’s legal strategy as it dealt with the fallout from the Larry Nassar sexual assaults scandal, including hundreds of lawsuits filed by victims of the former MSU doctor. The first round of those suits ended in a $500-million settlement,” according to Free Press reporter David Jesse.

Read the Free Press article.



Case Study: TIAA – A Legal Transformation With Technology, Process and People

Onit has published a case study showing how TIAA embarked on a journey that leverages best-in-class technologies, onshore and offshore partners, and innovation to bring together an efficient resource mix that enables the highest and best use of each law professional’s time.

The case study can be downloaded at no charge.

As TIAA law department’s chief operating officer and chief of staff for the past two years, Brad Rogers was tasked with transforming the entire legal operations function by bringing together law department employees and vendor partners from across the world to streamline processes and implement a comprehensive technology platform with capabilities rooted in process, workflow and collaboration that would allow the best use of each law professional’s time.

Download the case study.



How One Legal Department Saw Success from an Internal Client Feedback Program

Merry Neitlich of EM Consultants tells the story of the legal department of a Fortune 500 company its legal operations practices and interactions with its internal clients. Under the leadership of the senior vice president and general counsel, the legal department of 35 attorneys decided to ask their internal clients at the company how their services were being viewed and what could be done to improve upon them.

“The participants filled out a fourteen-question short answer continuum-based questionnaire,” explains Neitlich. “This information was transferred into graphs which allowed the attorneys to visually see their service strengths and weaknesses at a glance. The in-person feedback reports combined with the statistical data provided a deeper level of knowledge. ”

The article describes participants’ perception of the legal department, areas for possible improvement, internal communications, workflow options, human resources, and relationships with outside law firms.

Read the article.




Michigan State Fires Former State Supreme Court Justice as GC

Michigan State University has removed former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Bob Young as its general counsel, reports the Lansing State Journal.

Young’s last day was Friday, eight months after he started in the job.

Young’s salary at MSU was $425,000 per year. He had a contract that ran through May 31, 2021, making its total value $1.275 million.

“A university spokeswoman said Young will receive a full payout of that contract,” writes the State Journal‘s Matt Mencarini. “That would mean the university will pay about $1 million on the remaining balance.”

Read the Lansing State Journal article.