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Baseball’s Pirates, Phillies Hire New Legal Chiefs From Inside

Aug. 4, 2021, 10:00 AM

The Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates, which have been busy moving players ahead of Major League Baseball’s July 30 trade deadline, also have new law department leaders.

Leslie Safran, an associate general counsel for the Phillies since 2014, took over last month as general counsel for the franchise following the retirement of longtime legal chief Richard “Rick” Strouse. The Pirates named Mera Kutrovac, a former partner at Steptoe & Johnson PLLC, to be the team’s new general counsel in July.

The two top lawyer hires, as well as other recent in-house legal additions, were disclosed on the front office pages of the websites for both teams, as well as the attorneys’ LinkedIn profiles. A source familiar with both teams’ new legal leadership informed Bloomberg Law of the recent reshuffling.

Media contacts for the Phillies and Pirates didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The in-house appointments are the latest in a series of legal department changes within the top tier of U.S. professional baseball. The New York Mets recently named two co-general counsel, succeeding the team’s longtime legal chief, while the Los Angeles Angels are in the market for a new general counsel.

Other new additions for the Pennsylvania MLB teams include former Reed Smith corporate associate Drew Singer, now an associate general counsel for the Pirates, and Francis “Frankie” Garland, a former Morgan, Lewis & Bockius associate and Pirates’ head legal counsel who is now deputy general counsel for the Phillies. Both lawyers joined their respective clubs in July.

Garland, whose previous legal role with the Pirates was covered by Bloomberg Law last year in a story about the team’s former top lawyer moving into baseball operations, didn’t respond to a request for comment. Nor did Safran.

Strouse, a former Ballard Spahr partner hired by the Phillies in late 2009, a year after the club won the 2008 World Series, didn’t respond to a request for comment about his departure sent to his personal email. An auto-response message from Strouse’s Phillies work email noted his retirement and directed inquiries to Safran, who started her career as a labor and employment associate at Ballard Spahr in Philadelphia.

The Phillies have been involved in a long-running copyright registration dispute with Harrison/Erickson Inc. over ownership of the team’s famous mascot, the Phillie Phanatic, a large, costumed, furry green flightless bird.

The litigation playing out in a New York federal court has pitted the Phillies’ lawyers from Duane Morris against Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp, which is representing Harrison/Erickson, co-designers of the Phanatic. In January, Harrison/Erickson filed a motion for summary judgment in the case.

At the Pirates, Singer reports to Kutrovac, who already held legal leadership roles at two other entities owned by Robert Nutting, the businessman who took control of the Pirates in 2007. Kutrovac has been legal chief since 2019 for the Nutting Co., a holding company, and Wheeling, W. Va.-based publisher Ogden Newspapers Inc.

The Pirates parted ways in 2019 with ex-president Francis Coonelly, a former litigator at Morgan Lewis who before joining the team in 2007 served as MLB’s general counsel for labor. Coonelly, who now does speaking engagements, was replaced by Travis Williams as president of the Pirates.

Last year the Pirates named Bryan Stroh, the team’s former general counsel, to be senior vice president of baseball development. Marcy McGovern, another attorney and former vice president of human resources and business affairs, was promoted this past January to senior vice president of legal, people, and culture for the Pirates.

McGovern, a former lawyer at Littler Mendelson and Harrisburg, Pa.-based McNees Wallace & Nurick, subsequently left the Pirates last month to become senior corporate counsel for labor and employment at Giant Eagle Inc., a Pittsburgh-based supermarket chain that recently recruited Gregory Baker to be its general counsel.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com;
John Hughes in Washington at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com
Rebekah Mintzer in New York at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com

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