Tesla taps Musk’s Washington SEC lawyer as new general counsel

A Tesla Inc. Supercharger station stands inside a parking lot in Hong Kong, China. (Bloomberg pic)

SAN FRANCISCO: Tesla Inc. has tapped Dane Butswinkas, the Washington trial lawyer who represented Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk in his legal battle with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, to be the company’s new general counsel.

Butswinkas will replace Todd Maron, who is leaving the electric-car maker, the latest in a lengthy list of executive departures this year.

Butswinkas formally entered Musk’s SEC case as his lawyer in Manhattan federal court last October, a day after Musk insulted the agency in a tweet, calling it the “Shortseller Enrichment Commission.” Musk had already agreed to settle the suit, which grew out of his Aug 7 tweets that talked about taking Tesla private and roiled the market.

Butswinkas, 57, will report directly to Musk and oversee Tesla’s legal and government-relations team, Tesla said in a blog post late Thursday. While he will work full-time for the car company, he will “retain a relationship” with Williams & Connelly, the post said. Butswinkas will remain a partner at the firm but plans to move to California, according to two people familiar with the matter.

“After 30 years as a trial lawyer at Williams & Connolly, I would have never imagined joining a company in-house,” Butswinkas said in the post. “But Tesla presents a unique and inspiring opportunity.”

Musk has dealt with significant executive turnover this year and announced a series of promotions in September aimed at rebuilding from within. Last month, Phil Rothenberg, a vice president in Tesla’s legal department, left to became general counsel at Sonder, a hospitality startup. Rothenberg previously worked at the SEC.

While at Williams & Connolly, Butswinkas represented former Jefferies & Co. trader Jesse Litvak, who was convicted twice of defrauding customers by lying about the prices of mortgage-backed securities in trades. Butswinkas handled the second trial. Both convictions were overturned on appeal. He also represented Walt Disney Co.’s ABC television network in a defamation suit by Beef Products Inc. over news reports about a processed product ABC called “pink slime.” That suit was settled on confidential terms.

Maron joined Tesla in late 2013 as deputy counsel and became general counsel in September 2014. Previously, Maron handled divorce and other family matters at Jaffe and Clemens, a law firm in Beverly Hills, California, including two divorces for Musk.

Smooth Handover

Maron will remain at Tesla until January to ensure a smooth handover of responsibilities, the company said.

In resolving fraud claims brought against Tesla and Musk over the CEO’s infamous August tweets, the SEC required that the company hire or designate “an experienced securities lawyer” to review all social-media communications by senior officers.

As another part of the agreement, the company replaced Musk as chairman for three years and elevated director Robyn Denholm to the role. Tesla must also hire two new independent directors.