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Harbor Freight Tools Hires Skadden’s L.A. Real Estate Head

Feb. 3, 2021, 11:47 PM

Harbor Freight Tools USA Inc., a privately held company controlled by billionaire Eric Smidt, has again drilled into Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom for legal talent.

The discount tool and equipment retailer hired Skadden partner Meryl Chae in January as a senior vice president and general counsel. Chae, who disclosed her new role on her LinkedIn profile, spent the past 27 years at Skadden, where she also served as head of the law firm’s Los Angeles real estate group.

Skadden confirmed Chae’s departure. The firm has tapped partner Peter Mair to take over as head of the Los Angeles real estate group.

Harbor Freight’s president is Allan Mutchnik, a former Skadden partner who spent 24 years as a transactional lawyer at the firm. An online biography page for Mutchnik on Harbor Freight’s website states that he also helps manage the business interests and philanthropic efforts of Smidt’s family.

The Harbor Freight chairman and CEO runs the namesake Smidt Foundation, of which Mutchnik is a director. Smidt amassed a fortune, including a 10-acre estate in Beverly Hills, Calif., by selling $50 chainsaws.

In November, Harbor Freight lost a bid to contest class certification in a long-running dispute over allegedly faulty chainsaws. Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher is representing the Calabasas, Calif.-based company in that litigation.

Bloomberg News reported in 2018 that Harbor Freight used hundreds of collateralized loan obligations to refinance a $2.2 billion loan. The company’s business has boomed with many of its customers stuck at home as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to a spike in home renovations.

In October, Harbor Freight secured a $3 billion loan from debt investors that included a $900 million payout to Smidt, according to Bloomberg News.

“He puts on no airs,” Mutchnik told the Los Angeles Times for a 2016 story about the charitable endeavors of Smidt, who as a child once spent time in an orphanage.

Mutchnik didn’t respond to a request for comment about Chae’s move to Harbor Freight. Nor did Chae herself or a spokesman for the company.

Chae specialized in real estate investment trusts during her time at Skadden. An engagement letter between Chae and Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc., who she advised on a matter involving a studio office building, emerged as part of a massive email hack at the company in 2014.

Marc Friedman has been Harbor Freight’s longtime general counsel. He also didn’t respond to a request for comment about his role following Chae’s hire.

Harbor Freight also hired Moore & Van Allen counsel Kathryn Bina as a trademark counsel in January. The company brought on former Seyfarth Shaw counsel Haven Claytor last summer as a senior counsel for employment.

Goldberg Segalla has handled more than 10% of Harbor Freight’s federal litigation work in the U.S. within the past five years, according to Bloomberg Law data.

Other firms that have been busy representing Harbor Freight in federal court during that time include Clyde & Co; Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith; Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart; Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan; and Atlanta-based Smith, Currie, McGhee & Hiers.

Harbor Freight paid $120,000 to Brownstein Hyatt Farber & Schreck during 2020 for federal lobbying work on issues related to trade policy, per U.S. Senate filings.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at