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Exxon Mobil Taps Deputy to Replace Retiring General Counsel

Oct. 1, 2020, 8:01 PM

An in-house lawyer who recently helped a health care giant navigate lawsuits over the opioid crisis is jumping to Exxon Mobil Corp. as the oil and gas company faces a spate of litigation over climate change.

Craig Morford, a former top lawyer for Cardinal Health Inc., joined Exxon Mobil as deputy general counsel last year. The company said Thursday he will take over as its new legal chief when current general counsel Randall Ebner retires Nov. 1.

During his time at Cardinal Health, Morford oversaw its legal strategy as the company and its rivals faced a wave of litigation over the mass production and distribution of opioids. Cardinal Health is one of several companies behind a $50 billion settlement offer that awaits the approval of states and other municipalities.

Morford faces a similar challenge at Exxon Mobil, where the company’s environmental litigation docket is active. Exxon Mobil and other fossil fuel industry leaders have been sued by cities and states seeking compensation over climate change. Exxon Mobil has had some success in those various battles.

Exxon Mobil announced Oct. 1 the leadership transition of one of the largest corporate legal departments in the U.S. Morford and Ebner didn’t respond to requests for comment on the move.

“We thank Randy for more than 40 years of service to the company, most recently as our general counsel,” said Exxon Mobil CEO Darren Woods in a statement. “Randy has made significant contributions to Exxon Mobil throughout his career, and we wish him all the best in retirement.”

In 1980 Ebner joined what was then Exxon—the company merged with Mobil Corp. in 1999—as an attorney in its litigation group. He became chief attorney for the combined company’s chemical unit in 2000 and its gas and power marketing division in 2003. He was promoted to assistant general counsel in 2009 and in September 2016 named to succeed Exxon Mobil’s previous legal chief, S. Jack Balagia Jr., who retired. The company’s mandatory retirement age is 65.

The Irving, Texas-based company said in a statement that its board of directors—whose members include several attorneys in former WellPoint Inc. CEO Angela Braly, former MetLife Inc. CEO Steven Kandarian, and current Merck & Co. Inc. CEO Kenneth Frazier—elected Morford to succeed Ebner as general counsel.

Morford, a former acting deputy U.S. attorney general during the final months of the second Bush administration, joined Exxon Mobil last year following his retirement from Dublin, Ohio-based Cardinal Health, where he spent over a decade as legal and compliance chief.

Bloomberg Law reported in August on Exxon Mobil’s addition of assistant general counsel David Woodcock, who most recently was head of litigation at Jones Day in Dallas and who previously served as a regional director of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s office in Fort Worth, Texas.

New Orleans-based Liskow & Lewis and Adams and Reese have collectively handled nearly 20% of Exxon Mobil’s U.S. litigation caseload within the last five years, according to Bloomberg Law data.

Other law firms that have also been busy representing the company in court during that time are Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz; Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison; O’Melveny & Myers; Haynes and Boone; Norton Rose Fulbright; and Baker Botts.

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

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