There has been some recent buzz about current and former general counsels stepping down from their high-powered posts at major companies. Last week, Andrew Langhoff, a former general counsel at Dow Jones and European publishing chief of the Wall Street Journal, resigned from his position after allegations emerged of questionable methods used to boost circulation figures.
According to reports, an internal investigation at Dow Jones revealed that Langhoff struck an agreement with Executive Learning Partnership (ELP), a Netherlands-based consulting firm, and personally pressured two reporters into writing articles featuring ELP.
Langhoff was formerly – in 2003 – general counsel of a division of Dow Jones called Ottaway (now named the Local Media Group) – a separate role from his most recent position as publisher of WSJ Europe and head of Dow Jones in EMEA.
However, there are no excuses for this former general counsel’s missteps because his errors are of such magnitude: someone with his level of legal experience should have had better judgment.
As a result of Langhoff’s missteps, media giant Rupert Murdoch is out yet another senior executive. This NewsCorp scandal, which has dragged on throughout the past calendar year, continues to add additional chapters to mogul Murdoch’s dubious ethical history. Hence, many of his trusted advisers have left for greener and less embattled pastures.
Adding to this turmoil, also last week, Institutional Shareholder Services called for the ousting of the Murdoch father and son tandem and 11 other directors including Aurthur Siskind, NewsCorp’s former general counsel, who resigned from his position in 2004 after 13 years of service. (Siskind continues to serve as a senior adviser to Murdoch and holds a spot on the company’s board.)
Paradoxically, his successor, Lawrence ‘Jon’ Jacobs stepped down in June – a month before the company’s phone hacking scandal reached severe levels. Janet Nova, who now serves as Murdoch’s temporary group general counsel, has clearly stepped into some muddy waters.
‘Departure of a lawyer from representation may suggest discomfort on the lawyer’s part with the actions taken by his or her client,’ says Scott Univer, general counsel of WeiserMazars, a regional accounting and consultation firm. ‘Usually the lawyer cannot explain the reasons for departure because such explanation would reveal client confidences and the impression may not be a good one for the client. On the other hand, the departure may be due to dissatisfaction of the client with the lawyer.’
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