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Smartmatic Shifts Law Heads Amid Trump Coverage Dispute With Fox

Sept. 28, 2021, 9:30 AM

Smartmatic Corp., a voting technology company caught up in litigation over the 2020 U.S. presidential election, has parted ways with two top in-house lawyers and installed a new legal chief.

Colin Flannery, who most recently served as general counsel for Vertiv Holdings Co., confirmed via email to Bloomberg Law that he has succeeded David Melville, who recently retired from Smartmatic’s London-based parent company SGO Corp. Ltd.

Flannery, whose LinkedIn profile shows he took over the top legal role at SGO in June, spent more than three years running the law department at Vertiv, a Columbus, Ohio-based maker of electrical equipment for database centers that hired Stephanie Gill to be its legal chief in January.

Smartmatic and SGO didn’t respond to requests for comment about their in-house legal changes, which come amid an ongoing litigation battle between Smartmatic and Fox News over the latter’s coverage of former President Donald Trump’s electoral defeat last year to President Joe Biden.

In August, lawyers from Kirkland & Ellis, representing Fox News’ parent company, Fox Corp., asked a state court judge in New York to dismiss a $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit filed by Smartmatic and SGO against the media company.

Other defendants in the dispute include current and former Fox News personalities Maria Bartiromo, Lou Dobbs, and Jeanine Pirro, as well as Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, two lawyers who advised the Trump campaign.

SGO and Smartmatic have assembled a high-profile team of litigators—a group that once secured a substantial settlement from Walt Disney Co.-owned ABC News—to handle the case against Fox, which has argued in court that its reporting is protected by the First Amendment. Fox’s outside counsel is led by Kirkland partner Paul Clement, a prominent appellate advocate and former U.S. solicitor general.

Court filings show that SGO and Smartmatic are also being represented by the law firm Robins Kaplan in a separate lawsuit filed against both companies by MyPillow Inc. CEO Mike Lindell, who has publicly alleged that widespread voter fraud contributed to Trump’s defeat at the polls.

Public filings show that Smartmatic paid $20,000 through the first half of 2020 to Jake Perry + Partners LLC, a Washington-based government relations and lobbying firm it retained to monitor “federal legislation related to election security.”

SGO’s appointment of Flannery, who said he’s based in London, comes as Smartmatic has parted ways with its North America general counsel, Liliana Armas. Flannery confirmed her departure, as did the Florida-based Armas, who subsequently updated her LinkedIn profile to show her recent exit.

Smartmatic has removed from its website a biography page for Armas, who joined the company in 2018 after spending more than two decades in-house at Nokia Corp. A cached version of the page said she was responsible for managing Smarmatic’s legal affairs in the U.S. and Latin America, including regulatory and compliance matters, procurement transactions, intellectual property issues, customer deals, and dispute resolution and litigation management.

Melville, who Flannery succeeded, stepped down June 15, according to filings with the U.K.’s Companies House. He spent the past decade as chief counsel for SGO. An inquiry to his SGO work email was redirected to Flannery, the privately held company’s new general counsel.

Since retiring from Smartmatic’s parent company, Melville has been doing consulting, according to his LinkedIn profile. Online biographical materials for Melville show that prior to joining SGO in September 2011 he was a U.K. legal director for Amazon.com Inc. and headed the in-house legal groups at companies now owned by French telecommunications giant Orange SA.

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

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