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ESPN Elevates Longtime In-House Lawyer to Chief Counsel Role (1)

Dec. 9, 2021, 9:31 PMUpdated: Dec. 9, 2021, 11:12 PM

ESPN Inc. is promoting Eleanor “Nell” DeVane to the sports and entertainment media company’s top legal role in January, when she will succeed retiring chief counsel Diane Morse.

DeVane has served as a deputy chief counsel at ESPN since 2012, according to a Thursday press release from the Bristol, Conn.-based ESPN. The network, owned by the Walt Disney Co., said she has “performed legal work for virtually every area of ESPN.”

DeVane will report directly to two individuals, one of whom is Disney’s general counsel, ESPN said. Alan Braverman, who currently holds that role, is poised to retire from the Burbank, Calif.-based media conglomerate once his contract expires Jan. 1.

ESPN spokesman Dave Nagle said Braverman’s successor has not been named. Disney media representatives didn’t respond to a request for comment on the matter. Braverman also didn’t respond to a comment request.

“Over the years we have worked together, Nell has impressed me with her deep knowledge of the business, her skills as a lawyer, and the respect with which she is held within the organization,” Braverman said in a statement released by ESPN.

DeVane will also report to ESPN chairman James Pitaro, who took over the network in 2018. Pitaro was previously a Disney executive and started his career as an associate at the law firm Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker.

ESPN initially hired DeVane as an assistant counsel in 1997 after she spent four years as an associate at Wiggin & Dana in New Haven, Conn. The Yale Law School graduate left the company in 1999 to become a senior associate at Tyler, Cooper & Alcorn—a Connecticut firm that closed its doors more than a decade ago—only to return to ESPN the following year as an assistant general counsel.

DeVane was promoted to associate general counsel in 2005 before taking on the deputy chief counsel role seven years later. Morse, her predecessor as ESPN’s chief counsel, has held that role since 2015.

ESPN tapped Morse to succeed former chief counsel David Pahl, who subsequently joined DLA Piper as a senior counsel in its media, sports, and entertainment practice. ESPN said Morse will retire in January after 25 years in its legal department.

In October, ESPN announced that former Disney assistant chief counsel Heather Anderson would serve as its vice president of programming and acquisitions. Paul Richardson, a longtime former in-house lawyer and human resources executive at ESPN, was named Disney’s new chief human resources officer as of July 1.

Disney tapped Jill Ratner to become its new deputy general counsel for litigation as of Sept. 13. She replaced Edward Nowak, who retired after a 36-year career at the company. Disney also appointed a new chief compliance officer this past January in Alicia Schwarz. She succeeded Jacob “Jack” Yellin, who also retired.

(Adds comment from ESPN in fourth paragraph and additional Disney information in last paragraph.)

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